Close your eyes and imagine a record shop worker. Let me guess, he’s young, has long hair, wears a black t-shirt with a scary motif and is covered from head to toe in tattoos? Well, that may soon be about to change. It’s recently been reported that music giant HMV has introduced a uniform policy which requires its staff to cover up their tattoos, take out those obscure facial piercings and, for male workers, to cut off those long locks. Ozzy Osbourne will not be impressed!
HMV has suggested that the rationale behind its new policy is to smarten up its workforce to ensure that members of the public feel comfortable approaching its staff (it’s self service checkouts rather than tattoos that make me feel uncomfortable!)
It’s not unusual for employers to introduce uniform policies and, generally speaking, they are lawful providing they don’t discriminate against individuals with protected characteristics (such as sex, race and religion) and they are applied consistently. However, employers should give careful thought when attempting to enforce them and allow for exceptions to the rule. For example what happens if an employee has a temporary henna tattoo on her hand for cultural reasons, or if they employ a male Sikh whose religion requires him to grow his hair? A blanket ban preventing these will likely result in claims for discrimination.
Whilst it’s possible for employers to justify indirect forms of discrimination, i.e. a rule that is applied to all staff but puts individuals possessing a certain protected characteristic at a disadvantage, it needs to have a legitimate business reason for doing so. For example, a rule preventing staff from wearing earrings (which on the face of it (pardon the pun!) may put females at a disadvantage because typically more woman than men wear earrings), may be justified if there are health and safety reasons for why earrings can’t be worn in the workplace.
Any employer looking to introduce a uniform policy should also give careful consideration to how the policy is going to implemented and enforced. Consulting with staff and explaining what you expect from them is key. Equally important is training those individuals who will be responsible for enforcing the policy to ensure the policy is enforced in a consistent and sensible manner to avoid potential discrimination claims.
Further information on appearance and looks policies can be found here.