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Company dress code: Discriminatory?

Ms Begum who applied for an apprenticeship as a nursery assistant, is a practicing Muslim whose religious belief requires her to wear a garment that reaches from her neck to her ankles (a jilbab). During Ms Begum’s interview, she was asked if it was possible to wear a shorter garment for work, as the jilbab she was wearing was highlighted as a potential trip-hazard in the line of work required.

Ms Begum complained, claiming she had suffered a detriment because she had been told that she would not be permitted to wear a jilbab of the appropriate length and therefore was unable to accept the post based on her religious belief. The employment tribunal found that the provision, criterion or practice ('PCP') in regards to dress code, did not put Muslim women at a disadvantage, for reasons that a slightly shorter jilbab would have been acceptable. There was no evidence given stating it was a religious requirement to wear a floor-length garment.

As an employer you are well within your rights to enforce a dress code for your staff. Dress codes are often used within companies to express a corporate image through uniforms, for health and safety reasons (i.e. removal of jewellery or tying up long hair), or purely to portray the smart and professional ethos of the company through well-presented employees. These requirements can form part of company policy and if employees are found to be breaching these requirements, formal action can be taken.

In the case of Ms Begum, if an issue arises where a potential employee is not able to abide by the Company procedures set in place for health and safety reasons, then the employer is within their right to not offer employment.

The nursery to which Ms Begum applied to, state that staff should not wear any garments that might constitute a tripping hazard to themselves or the children in their care. This is not indirect discrimination to Muslim women. It is applied equally to staff of all religions and if it did put some Muslim women at a particular disadvantage, any indirect discrimination was justified as being an equal means of achieving a legitimate aim – in this case, protecting the health and safety of the staff and children.

If an employer does decide to adopt a dress code, it should be written down in a policy that is clearly communicated to all staff so they understand what standards are expected from them. Policies and procedures are in place for a reason and are key to maintaining consistency and preventing problems before they arise. Should you have any doubts about your policies and procedures then myHRdept are here to help. CLICK HERE for more information about policies and procedures.

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