Dress Code and Appearance in the Workplace

In 2006, the former CEO of Abercrombie and Fitch (“A&F”) was reported as saying that A&F only hire good-looking people in their stores “… because good-looking people attract other good-looking people, and [they] want to market to cool, good-looking people.” This comment gave rise to bad publicity, exacerbated by a series of allegations including: sexual harassment against female employees, race discrimination and religious discrimination. For example, in 2015 a Muslim woman, who was reportedly denied a job at one of the A&F stores because she wore a headscarf, succeeded in her discrimination claim against the fashion retailer.

Although an employer is entitled to a degree of discretion when it comes to controlling the image their establishment portrays – even by managing employee’s choice of workplace entire – in using their discretion companies must ensure that their dress code policy does not contravene the law on discrimination.  The case law shows the potential consequences companies face when they fail to apply a dress code policy even-handedly.  In Jarman v the Link Stores Ltd [2004] a tribunal heard how a male worker was subjected to disciplinary action for wearing an earring in the workplace while female employees were not faced with such similar treatment. In this case, the tribunal accepted that the male worker was subject to direct sex discrimination. More recently, this year, following a two year dispute, female employees at British Airways won a claim allowing them to wear trousers whilst at work.

Despite the remarks of the A&F former CEO, there are good business reasons why an individual’s employability should not be judged on their physical attractiveness.  Allowing oneself to be influenced by physical characteristics may result in the loss of talented people and as above, bad publicity. It may even affect an organisation’s ability to reach a diverse range of customers, therefore limiting growth.

Dominic Bonham