Refusal to Wear Work Clothing – Termination Valid

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Judgment of the Düsseldorf Regional Labor Court dated May 21, 2024 – Case No. 3 SLa 224/24

Work clothing does not need to be liked by every employee, but they usually still have to wear it. The directive to wear specific work clothing is generally covered by the employer’s right to issue instructions. This is also demonstrated by a judgment of the Düsseldorf Regional Labor Court dated May 21, 2024 (Case No.: 3 SLa 224/24). Here, the judges confirmed that the termination of an employee was effective because he refused to wear red work pants.

The employer’s right to issue instructions, also known as the right to direct, is extensive. It concerns, among other things, working hours, the place of work, and the content of work. Additionally, the right to direct includes matters related to the company’s regulations. Thus, the employer can, for example, also mandate specific work clothing, provided that the employee is not restricted in his personal rights or freedom of religion, according to the commercial law firm MTR Legal Rechtsanwälte, which also advises on labor law.

Work clothing is not to be understood as the employer’s arbitrariness, but generally serves a purpose. Work clothing often has a protective function. Additionally, it can serve the corporate identity or, for example, in retail, help clients recognize employees.

Work Clothing with a Protective Function

In the proceedings before the Düsseldorf Regional Labor Court, the employer provided employees with work clothing for operational activities in the areas of assembly, production, and logistics. This included red work pants, which employees in these areas were required to wear by the employer’s order. The red work pants also served a protective function.

The plaintiff, who worked with miter saws and cordless drills, apparently developed a deep aversion to the red pants despite their protective function and refused to wear them at work. Even after two warnings, the plaintiff continued to appear at work in black work pants instead of the red ones. Consequently, the employer terminated the employment relationship properly and with notice.

Unsuccessful Dismissal Protection Lawsuit

The dismissal protection lawsuit filed had no success at the Solingen Labor Court. In the appeal proceedings, the 3rd Chamber of the Düsseldorf Regional Labor Court also dismissed the lawsuit. The court made it clear that the employer was entitled to order the wearing of the red work pants within the scope of his right to issue instructions.

In its reasoning, the chamber stated that the employee was only affected in his social sphere. The employer is allowed to intervene in this sphere if there are legitimate reasons for doing so. This was the case here, as a key reason was work safety. The employer could demand the wearing of red work clothing because forklifts were also in use in this work area. Not only in this area but also in other production areas, visibility was increased by work clothing in the signal color red, according to the Düsseldorf Regional Labor Court. Additionally, maintaining the corporate identity in the factory halls was another substantial reason. This allowed for a distinction from external employees.

The plaintiff had worn the red work pants without complaint in previous years. His current refusal to wear the pants because he did not like them was not a sufficient reason, and he had not cited any other reasons. The plaintiff’s aesthetic preference alone could not play a role in the balance of interests. Therefore, the ordinary termination was effectively carried out, the Düsseldorf Regional Labor Court decided.

Employer’s Right to Issue Instructions

Work clothing is a more frequent point of contention between employers and employees than one might assume. However, the decision shows that employers can mandate clothing if there are legitimate reasons for it and the employee is not impaired in his personal rights or freedom of religion.

In this case, the employee had already received two warnings for refusing to wear the work clothing. The employer had thus given him the opportunity to change his behavior. Since he was not willing to do so, the employer could effectively issue a behavior-based termination.

MTR Legal Rechtsanwälte advises on warnings, terminations, and other labor law issues.

Please feel free to contact us.

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