Dress codes and appearance have been the subject of headlines recently. From high heels to tattoos, what we wear at work is an increasing area of debate and not just in the UK.  

An American appeals court has recently thrown out a case against a company that refused to hire a black woman because she would not cut her dreadlocks. Although an American case, it continues the discussion on what dress codes and appearance requirements an employer can impose on its workforce without being discriminatory.

The employee’s argument in this case was that dreadlocks are synonymous with black culture and therefore the request to cut them because they ‘tend to get messy’ was a form of discrimination. 

However, the court held that the hairstyle is not an exclusive characteristic of black people and therefore there was no racial discrimination.  UK discrimination laws prevent discrimination on the grounds of someone’s race which includes colour, ethnicity and ethnic or national origins. 

Although the US court found against the claimant in this case, this does not necessarily mean that a UK court or Employment Tribunal would reach the same conclusion applying the anti-discrimination laws in this country.  Employers should therefore tread carefully and take advice if confronted with a similar situation.