Dress code was not in conflict with the Danish Act on Equal Treatment of Men and Women

The Danish Board of Equal Treatment recently held that a workplace dress code setting different attire rules for men and women was not in conflict with the Danish Act on Equal Treatment of Men and Women.

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According to the Danish Act on Equal Treatment of Men and Women, men and women must be treated equally with regard to employment conditions. But does it conflict with the Act if an employer requires that male employees wear closed-toe shoes and trousers, whilst allowing female employees to wear bare-legged outfits and open-toe shoes? That was the ‎question before the Danish Board of Equal Treatment in this case.

The case concerned a male employee who worked in a technical department at a large company. The employee believed that the company’s dress code was gender discriminating and therefore filed a complaint ‎with the Board of Equal Treatment.

As part of a large merger process, the company implemented a dress code requiring ”professional appearance”, ”formal appearance” and that the employees ”dress accordingly”. The male employee worked in an open-office space where both customers and business partners visited. The company thus wanted the male employee to wear formal and professional attire.

Shortly before summer, the manager at the employee’s department sent an email to the employees, specifying how the dress code should be understood. In the email, the manager stated that men had to wear trousers and closed-toe shoes, whereas women could wear bare-legged outfits and open-toe shoes, as such attire was considered professional for women.

The male employee emailed to the manager that the dress code was an expression of a discriminatory and outdated attitude to gender roles. He believed that his female colleagues were allowed to dress as they please and that it was not impressed on them that their attire was inappropriate. The male employee then filed a complaint with the Board of Equal Treatment.

Before the Board of Equal Treatment, the male employee argued that the requirements for covering up skin should be the same for men and women. In addition, he claimed that the company’s dress code was in conflict with the Act, as the work attire rules were different on grounds of gender alone.

The company argued that in connection with the merger process the customer basis of the company had changed in such a way that international customers and business partners now visited the company’s open-office space. In the company’s opinion, it was decisive that the employees who were visible in this area had a professional appearance during the working hours.

The Board of Equal Treatment found that the company’s dress code set requirements for professional and formal attire for both men and women. Taking into account the open-office landscape and visits from international customers and business partners, the Board of Equal Treatment held that the company’s enforcement of the dress code was not in conflict with the Act.

Norrbom Vinding bemærker

  • that not all kinds of differential treatment of men and women will be considered as unlawful gender discrimination; and
  • that the concept of ”formal and professional attire” does not necessarily mean the same for men and women but depends on the specific circumstances.

The content of the above is not, and should not be a substitute for legal advice.

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