Can an employer ask an employee to not wear a piercing to work?
Employers do have a wide discretion to decide what their employees are allowed to wear at work as long as the rules are reasonable and non-discriminatory.
Think long and hard about the reasons
You should give serious thought about the reasons behind your dress code. A good starting point is to think about whether there are legitimate business reasons for the rules and whether they are necessary and proportionate.
In the case of piercings, ask yourself the following questions:
Beware of the risk of unlawful discrimination
Employers cannot discriminate on the basis of any of the ‘protected characteristics’ specified in the Equality Act 2010. This includes age, disability, race and sex. Those who have piercings are not specifically protected from discrimination under the Equality Act.
However, you still need to take care to avoid issues with unlawful discrimination. Remember that those employees who have a piercing may do so as a genuine manifestation of their religion or belief, therefore it is important that they are not discriminated against on this basis. Seek advice from your Employment Law Adviser to discuss this further.
Consult when introducing new rules
If you are seeking to introduce a new dress code or make changes to your existing set of rules, it is worth consulting with your employees. This gives them the opportunity to raise any concerns with you and enables you to consider the potential ramifications of the rules you want to impose. By including them in the process, you are getting their buy in and this will help ensure rules are respected in the future.
Your dress code should be written down, clearly communicated and in an accessible place for employees, for example, the Employee Handbook and/or intranet.
Breaching the rules brings about consequences
The dress code should clearly state the consequences if employees do not adhere to it.
If an employee turns up to work wearing something that is in violation of the rules set out in your dress code, you can pull them aside discretely and remind them of the policy and what is considered to be acceptable dress. Often a gentle reminder will do the trick. However, if the employee continues wearing inappropriate clothes then you can take formal disciplinary action. Again, seek advice to ensure you follow the correct procedure.
When deciding on dress code, the rules should reflect the needs and interests of the business, not seniors’ managers’ bias and personal preferences. By being too prescriptive with company rules, you run the risk of losing out on some great talent. Plus it can aggravate those employees who value showing their identity through piercings and body art.
To discuss your dress code needs, seek advice from your Employment Law specialist who can offer you guidance and/or draft your dress code to align it with your business needs.