A- It is not uncommon for clients with a dress code policy to have specific requirements on jewellery.
Whilst some will allow staff to wear certain types of jewellery at work, others will
choose to ban the practice all together. This will often be a contentious issue, especially when the jewellery is representative of an employee’s religion, and careful considerations should be made to avoid any potential unrest.
Recent government guidance entitled ‘Dress codes and sex discrimination-what you need to know’ provides some useful practical advice on the matter, stating that clients should be flexible and avoid dress codes which prohibit religious jewellery so long as they do not interfere with an employee’s work.
Clients should strongly consider allowing staff to wear religious jewellery where possible to reduce the risk of indirect discrimination. Under the Equality Act 2010, indirect discrimination is a provision, criterion or practice which applies to everyone, but may have a disproportionate adverse impact on a particular group who share a protected characteristic.
This means even clients who seek to avoid any conflict by having a complete ban on jewellery for all staff may still face claims of religious discrimination. A landmark case in 2013 saw Ms Nadia Eweida, a British Airways check-in clerk, win her right to wear a religious necklace at work. After her repeated claims for discrimination were dismissed by a series of tribunals the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) eventually ruled that her employer’s dress code policy was unlawful as banning the necklace had no impact on her ability to work and unnecessarily prevented her from the fundamental right of manifesting her religion.
Whilst the ECHR accepted that British Airways had a legitimate aim of projecting a neutral brand image, it did not conclude that the dress code policy represented a proportionate means of achieving that aim given the potentially discriminatory impact.
This shows that even if my client believes they can justify the banning of religious jewellery with a valid business reason, this may not always stand up in court when compared with the discriminatory impact that it may bring.
Perhaps the only concrete business reason clients can cite is that wearing of jewellery would put the health and safety of the employee at risk. Under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 clients have a duty of care to protect employees at work and risk assessments should be carried out to assess whether this would be unduly affected by the wearing of jewellery.
However, this option will not be applicable to all clients and is more suited to those working in high-risk environments such as factories or hospitals. Whilst clients may prefer that employees refrain from wearing jewellery for a variety of business reasons they must accept that having a ban on religious jewellery will not always be possible, instead it may be best to state that only religious jewellery is accepted in the workplace.
For further advice, clients should review the latest Acas guidance which stresses the importance of communication between clients and staff to reach a mutually beneficial agreement on dress codes.