Challenges to dress codes in the workplace are nothing new, according to employment law experts in the Birmingham office of law firm DLA Piper.
Recent high profile cases such as the Muslim teaching assistant who refused to remove her veil in the classroom or the BA worker dismissed for wearing a visible cross have hit the headlines, but problems with dress codes is not a new phenomenon in the UK.
Ben Gorner, a solicitor in the employment law team, said: "It is not so long ago that staff were challenging dress codes which required men to wear a tie.
"And whatever your mother may say about the practice of wearing a business suit without a tie, it is almost de rigeur in many industries. A property developer wearing a tie is almost certainly on the way to see his bank manager.
"Dress code claims have traditionally been brought on grounds of sex discrimination. What is different in the latest cases is the rise of religious discrimination which is a highly emotive area."
Both women in the cases highlighted asserted that the stance adopted by their employers was discriminatory on the grounds of their religion.
Although the Muslim teaching assistant lost her claim for discrimination, her case for victimisation was successful and both indicate the potential pitfalls for employers.
But dress codes can be sensitive issues for employees who do not have particular religious beliefs.
Those which differentiate between men and women are not automatically discriminatory. Tribunals will look not at the particular item of clothing but at the overall standard of dress required. Provided the standard is the same, employers can impose different requirements of dress, such as a tie for men.
Mr Gorner said: "Therefore a well thought out and balanced dress code policy ought to withstand claims of sex discrimination. Avoiding religious discrimination claims however is a more difficult exercise."
The Employment Equality (Religion and Belief) Regulations 2003 outlaw discrimination on the grounds of religion, religious belief or similar philosophical belief.
The most common form of religious discrimination when it comes to dress codes is indirect discrimination.
This occurs where an employer applies a "provision, criterion or practice" (PCP) to all employees equally but which places some at a particular disadvantage compared to others.
Mr Gorner said: "For example, a dress code banning ‘head wear’ may be discriminatory against Sikh males for whom wearing a turban is an important aspect of their faith.
"It is however a complete defence to an indirect discrimination claim if an employer can show that a PCP is a 'proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim'.
"What this means in layman's terms is whether or not the PCP fulfils a genuine aim e.g. health and safety, and whether that same aim can be achieved in a less or non-discriminatory way."
This is the threshold that all employers with potentially discriminating dress codes will need to meet to justify retaining these.
Whether or not an employer can show justification will depend on the particular facts of each case.
DLA Piper says it is important that when reviewing their dress codes, employers should:n Have an appreciation of the dress requirements for at least the mainstream religions in the UK. n Consider whether or not a dress code is necessary for their business and if so, clearly set out the reasons why. n Highlight any aspects of the dress code which could be discriminatory on the grounds of religion. n Consider carefully whether they can justify retaining a discriminatory aspect of the dress code bearing mind that even if an employer has a legitimate aim, the provisions of the dress code must be a "proportionate" means of achieving that aim.