Some companies have a combined dress code policy, that not only defines attire, but also looks at overall appearance and the way an individual represents the business. As part of this, employers may choose to include restrictions on the wearing of jewellery, but this needs to be carefully thought through and communicated to avoid complaints. A dress code that distinguishes between the sexes as to what may be worn in the workplace could constitute gender discrimination. For example, you couldn’t ask a male employee to remove earrings unless you would do the same for female employees.
Then you need to consider religious jewellery. Employers should tread cautiously in this area, as they will need to justify the reasons for banning the wearing of items that manifest faith to ensure they’re not indirectly discriminating against these employees, so any restriction would need to be connected to a real business or safety requirement. An unobtrusive cross, St Christopher, or Star of David can be subtle displays of faith that fit well with business dress. There was a recent case, however, where a policy allowed religious jewellery only if it was worn under the uniform, but the claimant refused to conceal her cross, so she was instructed to remove it. The European Court of Human Rights ruled that a fair balance hadn’t been struck and there was no real evidence that visibly wearing such jewellery would negatively affect the employer’s image or brand.
Employers are therefore advised to think about how strict and limiting they want to be with regard to jewellery in their dress code policy, and also if they are going to introduce restrictions, they need to be as clear as possible. If you were to include a clause saying there’s no objection to the wearing of jewellery, but ‘it mustn’t cause danger or be detrimental to overall appearance’, you would need to elaborate on this. The health and safety element should be easy to further detail – say in a kitchen or medical setting, or where employees are operating potentially dangerous machinery – but ‘detrimental to overall appearance’ could be challenged unless the policy wording is watertight.
Equally, if a policy states something as general as ‘appropriate attire for work’, this is likely to be misconstrued, as people’s perception of what’s appropriate may differ considerably. Like tattoos, the number of piercings and jewellery people choose to wear can be divisive, so if you know what you want to enforce, it’s important that it’s clarified, documented, and properly communicated.