Legal update: Equal Opportunities Commission – Racial Equality and School Uniform15May2015
Uniform policies and discrimination
With the increasing awareness in racial equality, companies, institutions and organisations should review their existing policies and identify any potential problems which may affect the legitimacy of relevant policies. In particular, uniform policies implemented by schools and organisations have been a common issue leading to claims of racial discrimination.
Equal Opportunities Commission Guidelines
The Equal Opportunities Commission has issued a booklet titled Racial Equality and School Uniform to provide schools with guidelines (the “Guidelines”) as to implementation of school uniform policies. In light of the vital public role played by schools as educators, the Guidelines provide reminders for schools to be places of equality and openness and must be both racially and culturally inclusive. By way of example, uniform policies disallowing jewellery has been found to affect the race and religious equality rights of a Sikh girl as the school failed to justify its failure to make an exception for wearing Kara, a plain steel bangle important for her identification.
Nevertheless, restrictions on dress would be legitimate if the schools are able to demonstrate justifiable grounds for the school uniform rules, for example health, safety, security, protection of rights and freedom of others etc. The Guidelines remind schools of the importance of balancing different rights prior to adopting school uniform policies and should uphold the best interest of students in education and overall development. Schools should be prepared and willing to consider reasonable requests for flexibility to accommodate particular social and cultural circumstances.
The Guidelines encourage an inclusive, open and transparent approach to devising school uniform policies. Different groups of students and parents should be involved in order to reflect different views and beliefs. The policy should be explained and articulated to both parents and students clearly.
Broader application of the Guidelines
Despite the focus on school uniform policies, it is suggested that other institutions, companies and organisations adopting uniform or similar policies for employees should refer to the Guidelines as a reference when devising and implementing their respective policies. Please contact us should you have any doubts or questions as to the uniform policies of your institution, company or organisation. The booklet titled “Racial Equality and School Uniform” can be found on the Equal Opportunities Commission’s website here.
Disclaimer: This publication is general in nature and is not intended to constitute legal advice. You should seek professional advice before taking any action in relation to the matters dealt with in this publication.