Why your employer can legally stop you wearing a poppy at work: your rights explained

Can your employer ban you from wearing a poppy?Can your employer ban you from wearing a poppy?
Can your employer ban you from wearing a poppy?
With Remembrance Sunday fast approaching, people across Yorkshire are digging deep and buying poppies for the Royal British Legion.

But every year, whether it's the debunked Wetherspoons hoax or a poppy mishap on telly, there's a story somewhere about a problem with a poppy doing the rounds.

Do employees have a right to wear a poppy at work (be it red, white or purple), are employers able to enforce a requirement to wear one?

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Law firm Geldards Law has taken a look at the issue of rights to wear a poppy at work - and this is what they found.

So what are employees’ rights to wear a poppy at work? What the law says

There is currently no express right permitting an employee to wear a poppy of any colour at work.

Some employers are happy to leave it to their employees as to whether or not to wear such, but others may want to take a more “hands on approach”.

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An Employment Tribunal considered a claim on the grounds that a restriction upon wearing a poppy at work was discriminatory on the grounds of a philosophical belief, which is a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010.

However, whilst the Employment Tribunal’s approach was that the belief was admirable, it was found not to be protected under the Equality Act as the belief was considered too narrow to meet the legal test. Therefore there was no discrimination in preventing an employee from wearing a poppy. The matter is still open to challenge but there have not since been any cases on the subject.

So can employers prevent employees from wearing a poppy at work or force them to do so?

Whilst legally, an employer can impose a ban on wearing poppies, this will of course be open to debate and possible confrontation, given the sensitivity of the issue.

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Several high profile names have been targeted with online abuse in view of their policies. Therefore, reputational considerations will play a part in the decision making process.

There may well be a genuine occupational requirement for employees not to wear poppies. For example, those handling or processing food may be prevented from doing so on health and safety grounds.

However, a clear dress code policy that is communicated from the outset of employment should assist in eliminating the possibility of a disgruntled workforce.

Likewise, it is very unlikely that an employer could impose an obligation upon staff to wear poppies at work unless there was a genuine occupational requirement to do so and such requirement was clearly communicated at the outset of employment.

Can employers discipline an employee for wearing a poppy?

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Unless employers have a clear dress code policy in place, preventing employees wearing charitable symbols such as poppies or wristbands for example, any disciplinary action taken for wearing such at work will be difficult to justify.

Therefore, the obligation really is on the employer to make clear what dress code restrictions operate within a business from the outset of employment. This is therefore a timely reminder to employer to review their policies before implementing any rules, not just in relation to poppies at work but other dress code rules that may have discriminatory implications.