Sport Relief Fancy Dress: Harmless Fun Or A Potential Tribunal Risk?

By Chris Wagstaff.
24 Aug 2018

With Sport Relief coming to most workplaces in March, we examine whether allowing fancy dress is harmless fun or a one-way ticket to an employment tribunal claim.

Many organisations have dress codes in place, which can be for a number of reasons, including:

  • To represent your organisation’s corporate image
  • To ensure staff are easily identifiable, or
  • On grounds of health and safety.

Employers may choose to relax these dress codes and offer ‘dress down’ days, or in connection with an event, such as Sport Relief, which happens to be taking place from 17 to 23 March.

What You Must Be Aware Of

Some organisations may choose to celebrate Sport Relief and allow staff to wear fancy dress to work. Where dress codes are implemented, or exceptions are made to the rules, employers need to ensure that they do not discriminate against individuals on the grounds of their: age, gender, religion or belief, race, nationality, marital status, sexual orientation or on account of their disability or pregnancy/maternity.

Employers must also ensure that part time and fixed term workers are not treated less favourably and have the same opportunity as full time, permanent staff to participate in ‘dress down’ days. Employers’ wanting to celebrate Sport Relief by allowing fancy dress, may need to consider how practical this is and whether or not it is feasible for all departments to participate.

What If Our Dress Code is for Health & Safety Reasons?

Employers within the manufacturing industry who impose a strict dress code on their factory workers on grounds of health and safety may be unable to allow employees operating machinery to take part due to the style of costumes and potential for these to become caught in the machines, resulting in damage to the machine or the individual injuring themselves.

However, they may allow their office staff to participate in fancy dress where the health and safety risks are considered as minor. Whether or not customer facing staff are able to participate may also vary depending upon the nature of the business.

Retail staff may be encouraged to dress up to aid sales whereas business development managers meeting a client, for the first time, may not portray the professional image of the organisation, if they attended in fancy dress. Therefore they may not be able to participate if they are scheduled to attend client meetings.

What Costumes Breach Regulations?

Those participating in fancy dress will still need to ensure that their chosen costume doesn’t breach any of your organisation’s rules and employers will be equally responsible for ensuring that costumes are appropriate.

Both Prince Harry and Paul Hollywood have faced extreme public criticism in the past for dressing up in Nazi uniforms and both have made public apologies for the offence this caused. Nazi uniforms within the workplace have the same potential to cause offence and should be avoided. Likewise an employee dressing up as a Muslim under the pretence of being a terrorist is likely to cause similar offence to both Muslims and non-Muslims, which could result in a claim of racial harassment. It should be noted that it is the impact of the behaviour, which is relevant, and not the motive or intent behind it. It is not only discrimination claims that could result from inappropriate choices of fancy dress.

Coulrophobia or a fear of clowns was heightened by the 2016 ‘creepy clown’ epidemic where members of the public across the world including in the UK were deliberately targeted by individuals dressed as menacing clowns in an attempt to scare them. Staff who dress as clowns to scare a colleague with a known phobia risk allegations of bullying being made against them.

What If a Claim Escalates?

It’s important to remember that both the organisation and staff members, directly, can be named in discrimination claims at tribunal.

If you need further guidance and advice on creating policies such as dress codes, or have a grievance situation that you need expert support with, we can help. Contact Croner on 01455 858 132.

About the Author

Chris Wagstaff

Chris is the Director of Health and Safety at Croner. Chris is also CMIOSH accredited, an IOSH Mentor and HSE People Champion and has over 20 years working in Health & Safety.


Fiona Burns

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