The overall answer to this is yes, an employer is allowed to have rules in place surrounding the appearance and dress of its employees. However, this mustn’t constitute any form of discrimination against individuals or groups of employees in respect of the protected characteristics as outlined in the Equality Act 2010 (age, disability, gender reassignment, race, religion or belief, sex, sexual orientation, marriage and civil partnership and pregnancy and maternity).
Dress codes can be in place in the workplace for many reasons, such as wearing a specific uniform to promote a corporate image, smart business dress if client facing or no loose clothing or removing jewellery for health and safety reasons.
An employer should always make sure any implemented dress code is reasonable and non-discriminatory, it should apply to both men and women equally. Recent high-profile legal cases have highlighted the importance of having a fair and reasonable dress code within a business. For example, a recent case where a temporary employee was sent home without pay for refusing to wear high heeled shoes at work. This was determined to be stricter on one gender and wearing high heels can cause pain and even damage so lead to a successful direct discrimination claim against her employer on the grounds of sex.
Employers also need to be careful to ensure they consider reasonable adjustments for disabled employees as necessary and also consider religious dress when writing their policy. In most cases, religious dress is subtle and blends with a dress code and it is advisable to be cautious in this area to avoid any form of discrimination. Any restrictions relating to religious dress should be considered carefully and only enforced if there is a real business or health & safety reason.
Employers may also ask employees remove piercings or cover visible tattoos at work as part of their dress code, if for example they deal directly with customers or if they wish to promote a certain image, however this is becoming generally more relaxed in most industries.
So to summarise, it is best practice to really consider your dress code and make sure you have reasoning behind your decisions, whether this is company image, practicality or health and safety for example.
We would always recommend having your dress code in writing so is clear to all employees what is expected and what is acceptable, and what are the potential consequences of breaching the policy such as disciplinary action (particularly the breach poses a risk to safety). This is generally included as part of your Employee Handbook.
If you would like any further advice or guidance, then please do get in touch.