How far should an employer’s dress code go?

Last week Police Scotland (PS) announced the introduction of a new policy on facial hear on Health and Safety grounds. That seems fair enough, we would all want to know that employees of the largest police force in the UK outside of the Metropolitan Police (the Met) are working in a safe environment and that they are not being put at additional risk when they put on their uniform or turn up for work.

The Policy

On Monday, 29th May, 2023 PS’s new policy comes into force and applies to everyone – officers and civilian staff alike. The policy states that all staff who may require to wear respiratory protective equipment (RPE) as part of their duties must be clean shaven. This is to be applied where it can be ‘reasonably forseen’ that employees may be required to wear the RPE. According to the BBC (2023), the risks that may require the wearing of these masks would include attendance at fires, road traffic accidents or chemical incidents.

While the policy doesn’t seem to be mandating a blanket ‘clean shaven’ policy, I would suggest that for any police officer going on duty, they can’t determine in advance what kind of incidents they may be called upon to attend and therefore being clean shaven becomes a necessity ‘just in case’.

Health & Safety

PS believe this is a Health & Safety Policy, that they are looking to protect their employees and are providing the best equipment for their employees, providing a mask (FFP3) which is recognised as providing the best level of protection for wearers on the market, but to work effectively, the wearers must be clean shaven.

The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) have indicated that RPE should only be worn as a last resort, so the question should be asked if the SP decision to introduce this policy is proportionate. From my research it appears that many officers are worried about this move and 4 employees have taken steps towards raising Employment Tribunal cases. In any case that goes to Tribunal, they will examine what a reasonable employer would do. The Met have a policy regarding facial hair which states that “beards and moustaches are allowed but they … [must] keep them trimmed and smart” (BBC, 2023)

Additionally, Tribunals will consider previous judgments. in 2019 the Northern Ireland Police Force lost a case at Tribunal where a male officer was transferred for refusing to shave his beard. He argued that if his employers were genuinely applying health and safety features then a female employee with long hair was at risk if she didn’t have her hair secured – that a pony tail was a grab risk. He won his case of sex discrimination with the requirement to remove his facial hair (a moustache in this case). (Moss, 2019)

In addition, the Northern Ireland case discussed above highlighted that tests carried out on the masks used indicated that the mask was safe with the moustache and there was no need for the wearers to be clean shaven, which undermines the claim that wearers of the mask need to be clean shaven thus the condition in the Policy is not a proportionate measure to meet business and health and safety needs.

Equalities/Discrimination Risks

SP have accepted that there will be exemptions from the policy requirement for those who cannot shave due to religious, cultural, disability or health reasons and that alternative RPE will be available in these circumstances. The National Sikh Police Association, according to the BBC (2023), have said they “support the new measures” and are accepting that “the new equipment will be sufficient”. Could it be argued then, that if the alternative equipment does not put the exempt groups at greater health risk, then the policy to insist that staff be clean shaven is unfair? They could simply be given alternative RPE.

I would also argue that if this policy is being introduced as a health and safety measure, should there be a way around it as the organisation is responsible for the health and safety of their employees and the face mask is claimed to be a proportionate way of achieving that aim. That being the case, there should be no alternative masks available, which does not appear to be the case here. Therefore, I could argue that the policy requirement is not necessary in terms of health and safety.

There does not seem to be any investigation yet into how ofen any individual member of staff is likely to be in a situation requiring the wearing of these masks, given the HSE guidance that the wearing of masks being should be a last resort. Alternative masks must be safe or they wouldn’t be able to use them as they have a duty of care to provide a safe working environment – or they’d be putting their staff at risk. If the risk is too high, this would be justification for discrimination and terminating someone’s employment as they cannot guarantee their safety.


It has been suggested that if PS are rigid about their staff being clean shaven at all times, then some employees may need to shave twice a day, necessitating shaving during their shift. I’m not sure how practicable it would be to require sometone to return to base to shave. How would PS deal with cases where employees are engaged in an incident and can’t return to shave and therefore are not compliant with the Policy. The reality is they will write in a condition to the policy, but how will they decide what would be an acceptable incident/situation where the employee has not complied with the Policy.


BBC, (2023), BBC News – Police Scotland officers ordered to shave off beards; last accessed 8th May, 2023

Gillies, Connor; 2019; Police Scotland officers threatening legal action against plan to ban beards; Sky News; 5th May, 2023;; last accessed 5th May, 2023

Moss, Rob; 2019; Police service discriminated against man with moustache, Personnel Today, 8th October, 2019;; last accessed 5th May, 2023

If you jump over to Wise & Shine I engage in some discussion about dress codes in the workplace more generally and consider whether they are still relevant today for many of us.

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  1. When Covid came, we had to wear masks on the hospital ward at all times. It took months for the equipment to arrive that fully covered the lower face effectively. We had no visors, no decent aprons, etc. for months. In short, we were nursing patients with inadequate personal protection. Our masks were those standard blue paper ones secured with elastic loops behind the ears. Beards and facial hair had to be trimmed right back. Once we were fitted for the superior masks, they had to fit tightly next to skin and have no gaps. Remember those pressure sore photographs? I was no intensive care nurse, wearing masks of this nature all day long. But wore those masks if up and close intervention was required with Covid positive patients. Minimal facial hair was enforced by the nurse measuring me for my mask. Serious stuff for protecting patients and staff. Head hair too was cut really short by myself. Showering at beginning and end of day? It was a blessing to simply have it dry quickly. All I can proffer to your blog Brenda is this early scenario. Nothing was ever truly relaxed, but masks were always worn of differing efficacy. Common sense really. Nowadays? Who knows who is compromised still. We do not hear numbers anymore do we? Thoughtful write up from yourself as always.

    • Thanks Gray and as always, it’s useful to get your perspective. But from what you’re saying it wasn’t necessary to ever be completely clean shaven?

      • No. I trimmed down accordingly. But kept a very, very short ‘goatee’. The edges of the mask had to be on clean shaven skin to provide complete contact. Although, if I had to be clean shaven back then? Yes of course. Patient protection paramount and yourself and your colleagues too.

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