You have probably seen there has been a lot in the news recently about dress codes at work.

High Heels

An employee who had been sent home for refusing to wear heels at work launched an e-petition calling for it to be made illegal for an employer to make women wear high heels. This attracted more than 150,000 signatures and a debate in parliament. More recently, two cases were taken to the court by women who were fired for refusing to remove their religious headscarves.

So, by law, what can and can’t an employer tell staff to wear?


  • Whilst a dress code could be implied into the employment contract of a particular job, if an employer has certain requirements or expectations about what their employees are to wear to work then this should be made a term of the employment contract
  • When formulating a dress code, its advisable to have a term dealing with appearance and a separate one dealing with dress, so as to cover situations where employees attend work with bizarre haircuts, facial tattoos etc.
  • A dress code must not be discriminatory, that is being seen as treating an employee less favourably due to one of the protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010, such as sex, race, religion, age or disability
  • Dress codes should relate to the job and be reasonable in nature
  • Dress codes may have different requirements for men and women, for example when requiring conventional appearance for a particular job, but the employer must enforce compliance of the differing requirements in the same way for both genders
  • Even where a dress code is justifiable, an Employer should consider any legitimate objections from an employee, e.g. due to ill-health
  • An employer must make reasonable adjustments must be made for disabled people when dress codes are in place
  • Employers may have health and safety reasons for certain standards of dress
  • A dress code should take into account the racial or religious requirements of workers

Religious Symbols

That said, going back to the case of women being fired due to failure to remove religious symbols (headscarves), the court ruled against them: ‘An internal rule of an undertaking which prohibits the visible wearing of any political, philosophical or religious sign does not constitute direct discrimination.’

In relation to the matter of high-heels at work, the requirement to wear high heels had been included in the employer’s dress code, which the employee had signed.   The employer considered it was promoting a certain level of smartness consistent with present law on dress codes.

Health & Safety

However, there are a number of health concerns regarding the wearing of high heels, which can cause damage to the joints of the feet, increases wear and tear round the knee joints, which might increase the risk of arthritis and also puts people with a weak lower back at risk of slipped vertebrae.

The employer in question has since revised its dress code, so as not to require women to have to wear high heels and there is expectation that the government will introduce new dress guidelines this summer.