Sexist dress codes at work: what you can do

Advice and Guidance

Who is this page for?

Which countries is it relevant to?

    • Great Britain

      Great Britain

My boss wants me to wear high heels to work or dress in a way I think is inappropriate – is this allowed?

Many employers have dress codes for staff. These can range from uniforms to rules about hair length or wearing jewellery.

Dress codes are allowed as long as they don’t discriminate against anyone. This means that the rules mustn’t unfairly affect women, unless there’s a real business or health and safety reason for a particular rule.

Can I be penalised for not following these rules?

Not complying with a dress code can lead to disciplinary action or even dismissal, so it’s important you understand the rules and how they apply to you.

Your employer should have a dress code policy and you can ask to see this. If they don’t have a policy, ask them to set out in writing how they want you to dress and why.

How do I know if my employer’s dress code discriminates against women?

It’s OK to have different dress requirements for women and men reflecting common standards of smartness but, overall, they mustn’t affect one sex more than the other. It’s fine to say 'women must wear business attire' and 'men must wear a tie', but it would be against the law to make women managers wear a uniform while allowing men to wear suits.

Dress codes must not be a source of harassment by colleagues or customers, so any requirements on women to dress in a sexual or provocative way are likely to be unlawful.

Employers can require their staff to look smart and presentable but a requirement to wear high heels, make-up or revealing clothing is likely to be discriminatory towards women. It is difficult to see how, in most jobs, it could be justified for business or health and safety reasons.

What can I do if I think the dress code is discriminatory?

The first thing to do is to talk to your manager. Explain what you think is inappropriate and why. Suggest a different way you could still look smart and business-like.

In most cases, employers will want to make sure their dress code is lawful and comfortable for their staff so they may agree to change it.

If talking to your employer doesn’t resolve the issue, you can ask for help from your trade union representative.

If you think you’re being discriminated against you can contact the Equality Advisory and Support Service using the details below.

Last updated: 08 Mar 2017

Further information

If you think you might have been treated unfairly and want further advice, you can contact the Equality Advisory and Support Service.

Phone: 0808 800 0082
Textphone: 0808 800 0084

You can email using the contact form on the EASS website.

Also available through the website are BSL interpretation, web chat services and a contact us form.

Post:
FREEPOST
EASS HELPLINE
FPN6521

Opening hours:

9am to 7pm Monday to Friday
10am to 2pm Saturday
closed on Sundays and Bank Holidays

Alternatively, you can visit our advice and guidance page.