Can an employer require an employee to change his or her hairstyle if the employer considers that it is too unconventional?

An employer can have a dress code requiring employees to comply with what might be regarded as conventional formal appearance, but some flexibility in the implementation of such a policy is needed to avoid possible discrimination complaints. In Erogbogbo v Vision Express UK Ltd [2000] ET/2200773/00, a woman of black African origin was told that it was unacceptable for her to wear her hair in short spiky plaits because the employer did not consider it to be neat and tidy. The employer asked her to leave the workplace when she refused to modify her hairstyle. She successfully claimed race discrimination, the tribunal finding that the employer had made no allowance for the differences in hair styling between African and white persons.

It is also arguable that restrictions on hair styling 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.

If the employer is satisfied that the employee has no reasonable grounds for objecting to the dress code and there is no potential discrimination against the employee, the employer may ask the employee to change his or her hairstyle, and commence disciplinary action in accordance with its disciplinary procedures if the employee refuses. A continued refusal to comply with the employer's dress code may lead to a fair dismissal of the employee on the grounds of misconduct or "some other substantial reason".