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21 February 2018
In general terms, yes you can – but a dress code must sit within the context of discrimination legislation and must be applied in an even-handed way. A recent Jersey case illustrates how this works.
The case involved a receptionist, Eleanor Mahoney, whose discrimination and unfair dismissal claims against JTC Group were struck out in October 2017. During her probationary period, her employer told her that she was not always dressed sufficiently smartly. The claimant said that she was being discriminated against for being a "plus-sized woman". She did not complain that male colleagues were treated differently. The Discrimination (Jersey) Law 2013 does not consider size a protected characteristic in the same way as sex or age, and her claims failed.
In summary, employers can enforce dress codes only within the confines of the discrimination law. For example, a requirement for a female receptionist to wear high heels is illegitimate since no equivalent requirement is placed on male employees. Employers that want to enforce a dress code should consider the discrimination law and whether their proposals meet it. Policies should be clear, fair and evenly applied. The reputational damage in getting this wrong can be significant.
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