Dress codes are standard practices in many workplaces. However, it is imperative that none of the dress code policies indirectly discriminate against religious people. Given that many religious people express their religious identity through a particular piece of clothing, having restrictions on a dress at work can result in discrimination.
The law states that no workplace dress code policy can restrict a religious person from wearing their traditional religious dress if it does not impact health and safety. Given that religion and belief are classed as protected characteristics, they are covered under the 2010 Equality Act. Meaning any policy that discriminates against a person on religion or belief, such as they can’t wear what they feel most comfortable in as a religious person, is against the law.
This guide will talk through some examples of discriminatory dress code policies to help employees and job seekers recognise when an employer is not respecting religion and faith. We will also give you tips on what to do if you face a discriminatory dress code policy.
Examples of dress codes that result in religious discrimination:
Many traditional religious dresses include an item of headwear such as the turban for Sikhs, the kipper for Jewish people and a hijab for Muslim women. If your workplace has any limitation on headwear (for reasons other than health and safety), it could be an example of religious discrimination.
Similarly to headwear, some religious people wear particular jewellery such as rosary beads for Christians or wearing a cross or crucifix. Any religious jewellery should, by law, be exempt from jewellery bans.
Having to wear a skirt or dress of a particular length
In some religions showing too much skin is prohibited. Therefore a workplace cannot enforce somebody to wear a dress or a skirt of a particular length which would go against this. Similarly, dress code policies that force only women to wear a dress or skirt are also discriminatory on sex and gender.
No facial hair
Some religious men, such as Sikhs, Orthodox Jews and Muslims, prefer to have a full beard and consider shaving against their spiritual practice. Therefore, a workplace cannot insist that everybody is clean-shaven, and if they do, they may be breaking the law.
What to do if you are facing discrimination from a dress code:
First and foremost, you should speak to your employer or manager. This does not excuse the discriminatory policy, but they might not realise how a particular dress code would impact somebody of a specific religion. Hopefully, by highlighting how it affects you, they can change the policy never to happen again.
If you speak to your manager and face backlash, you may want to take your claim to HR, where you can file a formal complaint of discrimination.
If you need further help understanding your rights as an openly religious person in the workplace, visit our helpful guide.