In this brief article, we consider the legitimate reasons an employer might have for restricting or banning jewellery in the workplace. We also look at the circumstances in which they cannot restrict jewellery being worn.
Your health and safety
Employers have a duty to their employees to protect their health, safety and welfare. This includes reducing the risk of injury in the workplace.
Where jewellery may cause a risk – for example, because you are working with machinery – a restriction or ban on what can be worn is justified.
The ban may cover all types of jewellery, even if these are worn for religious reasons.
Health and safety of others
Employers have the same duties to protect the health and safety of other people that may be affected by their business. They may therefore restrict or ban the wearing of jewellery to protect their customers or visitors. For example, a food restaurant may restrict or ban jewellery for hygiene reasons – or a hospital may restrict or ban jewellery because of the hygiene risk it poses to patients.
Employers may want to restrict or ban jewellery as part of their dress code. A corporate dress code is typically introduced to ensure employees present themselves to customers in a way that is consistent with the employer’s brand. Any dress code (including a policy on jewellery and piercings) must not be discriminatory and must apply to all genders.
Employers can ban the wearing of all jewellery (including religious jewellery) if they have a legitimate health or safety concern. However, they cannot ban the wearing of religious jewellery simply as part of their corporate dress code.
You may know that you have a range of rights under the Human Rights Act 1998 including the right to hold beliefs (both religious and non-religious) and to manifest them (Article 9). This includes amongst other things the right to wear religious clothing and jewellery. However, this right is qualified which means it can be interfered with in some circumstances. Article 9 lists those circumstances – they include:
- public safety;
- the protection of public order, health or morals; and
- the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.
So, for example, your employer would be entirely justified to ask you to remove cross earrings if you were working near machinery or in a restaurant, on the grounds of safety or hygiene. The same policy should, of course, be applied universally to anybody wearing earrings.
Any interference must be justified. If, for example, your employer asked you to remove a necklace with a cross because it did not comply with the Company’s uniform policy, this could be a breach of Article 9. The fact that wearing a necklace is against the company’s corporate dress code may not be sufficient grounds for interference, unless there is some other good reason (such as a genuine health and safety concern).
In 2013 check-in clerk Nadia Eweida won her case against British Airways after it told her to hide her white gold cross. By contrast, nurse Shirley Chaplin lost her case when the hospital she worked at asked her to stop wearing a cross on health and safety grounds. The hospital’s concern “was not specifically about the crucifix, but about health and safety concerns about patients grabbing necklaces.”
Government guidance states: “Employers should be flexible and not set dress codes which prohibit religious symbols that do not interfere with an employee’s work.”
What jewellery should I wear?
If your employer allows you to wear jewellery in the work place, take a common sense approach to your choice. If you wear too much jewellery or choose flamboyant pieces, your employer is more likely to introduce dress code restrictions! Excessive jewellery may also distract colleagues and customers from hearing what you have to say, or may result in senior colleagues taking you less seriously. Choose simple jewellery such as plain threader earrings, a simple ring or subtle necklace to enhance your outfits.