To what extent can a retailer enforce rules about the appearance and dress code of their store colleagues?

Most, if not all, retailers have dress codes to establish standards of appearance. However, dress codes are becoming increasingly contentious and, if not drafted carefully, can attract adverse publicity and expose retailers to claims.

A prime example is the sales assistant at Harrods who, according to newspaper reports in July, resigned after refusing to comply with Harrods’ dress code requirement that women should wear “full make-up at all times”. The employee has claimed she was “driven out” of her job over her refusal to wear make-up.

Careful consideration is therefore required to ensure that dress codes are enforceable, says Nick Thorpe, partner in Field Fisher Waterhouse’s employment and pensions team. He says that the content should reflect the purpose of the code. Is it to establish a professional appearance or meet health and safety requirements, perhaps? Where appropriate, they should take into account the requirements for different types of roles in the organisation – different standards may be required for customer-facing employees, for example.

Dress codes can also give rise to discrimination claims, so it’s important that retailers can justify dress code requirements. “Employees’ religious beliefs may need to be addressed,” says Thorpe – restrictions relating to wearing a veil or a cross have given rise to litigation in the past. Reasonable adjustments may be required for disabled employees, and dress codes could also discriminate because of sex, unless different requirements for men and women reflect conventional standards and apply an even-handed approach.