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Can employers ban jewellery in the workplace?

From ancient civilisations to modern times, wearing jewellery has been firmly embedded in both societal and cultural norms. Jewellery is an enduring form of personal expression, turning our choice of clothes into a complete outfit and instantly provide a confidence boost.

So what happens when an employer decides to restrict or ban the wearing of jewellery in the workplace? There are a number of reasons why an employer might want to take this step:

Reasons an employer might want to restrict or ban jewellery in the workplace:

(1) Protecting the health and safety of employees

Employers have various duties under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 to their employees. These include taking steps to prevent employees from getting hurt or ill through their work. Employers carry out risk assessments to decide what could harm their staff on the job, and then they put in place precautions to prevent the harm. So far as jewellery is concerned, this will typically include a range of policies on what can be worn, and whether it should be covered.

Of course, your earrings or necklace is unlikely to cause a great deal of risk if your role is working at a desk in an office. Policies are more likely to be introduced if you are working with machinery, where jewellery such as long threader earrings or loose clothing could become entangled with the machine’s parts.

(2) Protecting the health and safety of other people

In addition to their duty to protect you, employers also need to protect others that may be affected by what they do. This depends on the nature of the organisation but might include, for example, customers, suppliers, visitors, pupils or patients.

Studies have shown that jewellery can harbour bacteria. For example, in a 1985 study published in the British Medical Journal, scientists reported that mean bacterial counts were higher on ring-wearing fingers (1600 compared to 180 for non-ring wearing fingers).

“Their survey included 50 nurses working on medical and surgical wards who permanently wore rings and studied the microorganisms isolated from skin under the rings. Forty percent of these nurses (20 nurses) had Gram-negative bacilli on the skill under their rings, and 16 of these 20 nurses still had most strains each time the nurses were sampled during the five-month study. A similar study found that even after washing hands with povidone-iodine, those with rings had higher bacterial counts than those without. The published research appears to show that jewellery is a significant vehicle for the transmission of pathogens and a driver of hand contamination.”

Consequently, it is unsurprising that in hospital and food-service environments, permissible jewellery is quite limited.

Here is an example from a hospital dress code:

“Jewellery for clinical staff must be kept to a minimum; a plain/wedding ring and one pair of discreet stud earrings are permitted. Wrist watches must not be worn when providing clinical care, which includes examining patients. Facial/body piercing is not permitted and must be removed before coming on duty. This includes tongue studs. If staff have piercing for religious or cultural reasons, these must be covered and must not present a quantifiable health and safety or infection prevention and control risk.”

~ Sheffield Teaching Hospitals

Bacteria might not be the only reason why an employer limits the wearing of jewellery in the workplace. In 2010 Shirley Chaplin took the Royal Devon and Exeter NHS trust hospital to an employment tribunal when they asked, claiming that taking off a necklace bearing a crucifix would “violate her faith”. She lost the case – the reason for asking her to remove her jewellery was nothing to do with its religious nature but instead, because of the risk that a patient might grab the necklace. The tribunal upheld this as a legitimate reason for the restriction.

(3) Ensuring employees portray the Company’s brand

Companies often like their staff to dress a certain way to appropriately convey the Company’s brand. There is nothing to stop an employer limiting or restricting jewellery for this reason.

Sometimes, however, it is not permissible for an employer to ban the wearing of jewellery.

When an employer cannot stop employees from wearing jewellery

An employer cannot prevent an employee from wearing jewellery in two main circumstances:

(1) When the policy is discriminatory

Any dress code policy must not be discriminatory. Whilst policies for different genders do not have to be exactly the same, they must be on equal footing.

As an example, it would be acceptable to introduce a policy that all genders should wear a ‘two piece suit’, ‘low heels’ and only ‘stud earrings’ permitted. It would be unacceptable to specify, for example, that only women can wear earrings.

(2) When the policy bans religious jewellery without good reason

The right to wear jewellery at work that ‘manifests’ your beliefs is protected by Article 9 of the Human Rights Act 1998. Employers cannot ban you from wearing religious jewellery, unless they have a good reason.

In 2013 British Airways employee Nadia Eweida won her case against British Airways in the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), when the airline made her stop wearing her white gold cross visibly. The court said BA had not struck a fair balance between Ms Eweida’s religious beliefs and the company’s wish to “project a certain corporate image”.

However, the right to wear jewellery which manifests your beliefs is not absolute: it can be restricted for a number of reasons including health and safety. This is why Shirley Chaplin (above) lost her case. The Government has since issued detailed guidance on dress codes for work which includes a section on jewellery and piercings.

In effect, this means that an employer may restrict or ban all jewellery at work, unless it is worn for religious reasons (unless there are good reasons for such a restriction or ban, such as health and safety reasons).

Note that it is not yet clear how Brexit will affect Human Rights legislation, with the Tories wanting to ‘update’ the Act after Brexit.

Keep it simple

Plain threader earrings

Above: Plain threader earrings

If your employer allows you to wear jewellery to work, try to keep your choices simple. Unless you are in a creative environment, wearing outlandish pieces may spur the introduction of more restrictive policies! Ensuring that your jewellery is in keeping with the employer’s corporate image will reduce the likelihood of confrontation or undue restriction down the line. Our plain and geometric threader earring collections both offer a great selection that is perfect for many work situations.

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