You may have read in the newspapers of a case brought by Matthew Thompson -an employee at the Stockport Job Centre - against his employer supported by his union, PCSU. The Job Centre required him to wear a tie even though he had no contact with the public, but it did not require women in similar circumstances to wear either the same or similarly smart dress. He claimed this was discriminatory. The Tribunal agreed - he had been discriminated against because of his sex.
We anticipate that over the next days, weeks and months there will be reports to say that all dress codes (or all dress codes which do not prescribe identical dress between men and women) are unlawful. Not so.
The key issue in both law and common-sense is simple. An employer is entitled to require any reasonable non-discriminatory dress code it desires for its business. One may choose a more casual dress down approach, another may insist that they want their employees to be "smart". That is a choice for each employer. The application of the same standard between men and women cannot be discriminatory. For example, a requirement for "smart, conventional" business dress to be worn by both sexes is gender neutral. Of course, what men and women wear to be "smart and conventional" in a business context is not the same between the sexes or different racial groups for that matter.
In Mr Thompson's case, he was required to wear a tie. There is nothing inherently discriminatory or less favourable in that. Unfortunately, the employers did not seem to require a similar standard of smartness from female employees. They did not require women to wear ties or something similar and allowed, for example, women to wear t-shirts - a different and discriminatory standard.
The key learning point is that dress codes are by themselves lawful. Difficulties arise when the detail or application of those dress codes produces differences between what is acceptable for men and acceptable for women either in principle or detail. Where the detail is different between the sexes, to avoid unlawful discrimination, the underlying standard applied (whether it be either smart, casual, compliance with health and safety requirements or whatever) should be the same between them.