One of London’s most exclusive hotels, The Dorchester, has found itself at the centre of a row over its dress code for female employees. Last week an email, sent by the Hotel’s managers to its employees, revealed a list of grooming rules for female staff. The list encourages women to shave their legs, manicure their nails and avoid turning up for work with oily skin, bad breath or “garish” make-up.

Following the leak there have been reports of similar grooming standards at other luxury hotels in the capital. So can employers impose these sort of rules?

The first thing to remember is that it is not unlawful for an employer to impose a dress code on its workforce. In fact, most organisations have a dress code of some sort which they use to present a particular corporate image or for health and safety reasons. In this regard employers generally have a wide discretion over the contents of their dress codes although they must be mindful of potential discrimination issues.

Dress code requirements can vary for men and women but employers need to ensure they are imposing the same overall standards. It is not clear from this report what standards have been set for The Dorchester's male employees but if female staff are being treated less favourably as a result of the rules on grooming the hotel could well face sex discrimination complaints. In addition to this, the requirement to shave may discriminate against some women whose religious or other beliefs do not allow them to remove body hair or women who suffer from medical conditions that make this more difficult.  

This is the second high profile case this year concerning dress codes for women and follows Nicola Thorp’s challenge to Portico’s policy of requiring women to wear high heels at work. Both these cases act as a reminder of the importance of keeping dress codes under review to ensure they reflect the role of men and women in the modern workplace. Pressure on employer’s to modernise their policies is growing, with the PM herself being challenged to ditch the high heels in favour of flats. Only time will tell if Theresa is prepared to consign her kitten heels to the closet!