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Personnel: Rules on employee appearance in company regulations

Publication date: 23 March 2017
Employers can determine rules on clothing and appearance in company regulations. What do employers have to keep in mind when setting such rules?


Employers may determine rules regarding the clothing and appearance of employees. However, this authority is not unlimited as can be seen from two recent rulings of the Court of Justice.

The first ruling held that a security company can order its personnel to wear neutral clothing and thus can prohibit clothing associated with religion, such as a headscarf. However, the second ruling held that a secondment agency for IT professionals was not allowed to dismiss an employee who did not comply with the request of a client not to wear a headscarf anymore. What do employers have to keep in mind when setting dress codes for their personnel?

Company regulations

The employer can only hold the employees to comply with the rules if these rules are known to the employees. You can ensure this by including a dress code and grooming standards in company regulations. It is important that these company regulations will then be actually enforced with regard to all employees they apply to.

No forbidden discrimination

It is not permitted to violate in a regulation the right to equal treatment, one of the most important fundamental rights. A ban on all expressions of faith (headscarf, cross, skullcap) therefore is forbidden discrimination.

A neutral provision can also discriminate against employees of a certain faith or gender. For instance, the requirement of a receptionist to wear high heels regards women only. Such indirect discrimination is only permitted if the employer has a good reason for the rule and this rule is appropriate and necessary to meet this goal.

In brief, a ban on headscarves is therefore not allowed, the obligation to wear neutral clothes may well be allowed.

Good reasons for rules

It is important for employers to have good reason for rules. Safety, hygiene, but also the requirement for conformity and representativity can be good reasons. If the reasons of the employer are good enough, depends, among other things, on the following:

  • The position of the employee. Does he or she have a representative position or only internal contact?
  • The location where the employer is established. Generally, more things will be accepted in the Randstad area than in the rest of the Netherlands.
  • The industry and the activities of the employer. Is wearing a uniform or occupational clothing customary? Is protective clothing required?
  • Current social views. Men’s earrings or tattoos are now seen differently than forty years ago.

Setting a dress code to comply with the requirements of a client can be good reason only if the requirements of the client are based on a legitimate goal, which biases by the client or his employees are obviously not.

Being a good employer and being a good employee

If the employer sets rules that restrict the rights of the employees, the employer can be expected to offer the employees, if possible, an alternative to the regulation, for instance, a position with less or no face-to-face client contact. However, the employee can also be expected to comply with reasonable requests by the employer, such as to wear clothes that cover tattoos or to remove piercings.

If a company has a works council, company regulations and changes to them cannot be introduced without permission by the works council.

More information

Would you like to draft a dress code or grooming standards for your employees? Or would you like to learn more about company regulations? Please contact us:

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