Can an employer have a policy that prohibits male employees from wearing earrings?

Employers that wish to enforce a dress code that prohibits male employees from wearing earrings should be aware that such a rule could be held to constitute sex discrimination. The position under current case law is that an employer can enforce a dress code requiring different styles of appearance between men and women, provided that the employer applies a comparable or equivalent standard of smartness and conventionality for both sexes (Smith v Safeway plc [1996] IRLR 456 CA). However, attitudes towards what may be regarded as conventional or acceptable dress in the workplace are not static and it may be increasingly difficult to argue that different rules for male and female employees are not discriminatory. In Jarman v The Link Stores Ltd [2004] ET/2505091/03, a male employee was disciplined for refusing to remove his earring and successfully argued that this amounted to sex discrimination. Particularly where male employees do not come into contact with members of the public or clients of the employer, employers may find a dress code that prohibits men from wearing earrings difficult to defend if challenged in an employment tribunal.

It is also arguable that a requirement for men not to wear earrings at work may contravene art.10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (the right to freedom of expression), when taken together with art.14 (the anti-discrimination right). As yet there have been no cases decided on this basis.