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Customer dress codes

Businesses can set reasonable dress codes for their customers.  This can include different standards of dress in different parts of the premises, or at different times of the day.

The same standards need to apply to everyone, with the same level of formality for men and women.  For example, if there is a rule that no one can enter the premises wearing a singlet, it has to apply to both sexes.

It can be discrimination if a dress code treats one group of people less favourably than another, and it is unreasonable to do so.

The law entitles a transgender person to dress and live as a member of the sex with which the person identifies, even if it is different from their biological or birth sex. Employers can impose reasonable dress codes, but cannot require a person to dress as a woman if he identifies as a man, or to dress as a man, if she identifies as a woman.

Before deciding on a dress code, ask yourself the following questions.

  • Is one sex treated more favourably?
  • Are people from different cultural backgrounds or religions unable to comply?
  • Are people with disabilities unable to comply?

If the answer to any of these is 'yes', your dress code may be discriminatory unless it is reasonable in the circumstances, for example the dress is required for health and safety reasons.

Display your dress code clearly for customers and make sure your staff, including security contractors, apply it consistently.

Example

James was refused entry into a hotel because he was wearing thongs, but his girlfriend was allowed in even though she was wearing the same footwear. James made a complaint of sex discrimination. The hotel reviewed their dress code so that neither men nor women wearing thongs were allowed entry.


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