In December 2015, Nicola Thorp was sent home from her place of work for refusing to wear shoes with a “2 to 4in heel”, a story amplified by the UK media, provoking much debate around the issue.
Following the incident and a recent report, two parliamentary committees are urging the government to enforce the law properly to ban sexist rules at work. The two committees, for Petitions and for Women and Equalities, conducted a report entitled ‘High Heels and Workplace Dress Codes’. The joint report states: “We heard from hundreds of women who told us about the pain and long-term damage caused by wearing high heels for long periods in the workplace, as well as from women who had been required to dye their hair blonde, to wear revealing outfits and to constantly reapply make-up. “The Government has said that the existing law is clear and that the dress code that prompted this petition is already unlawful. Nevertheless, discriminatory dress codes remain widespread.” Debates have been reignited today following the report’s findings, questioning just how effective existing law is in protecting against discrimination at work, but Paul Holcroft, Head of Legal and Advisory at Croner says: “The law is already clear and employers should ensure that any policy they design places equivalent requirements on all employees regardless of the sex of the employee. “Once in place, there is a duty on an employee to comply with the code, but he or she may have a claim against the employer if the code places him or her at a disadvantage compared to other employees, on the grounds of his or her sex or race, or the individual’s religion or belief.”
Croner’s Top Tips for Introducing a Dress Code
- Dress codes for men and women are equivalent and do not place an onerous burden on one sex rather than another.
- If an employee or worker dresses in a manner particular to his or her religion or belief, this should be respected so long as it does not impact the safety practices of the workplace or the effective performance of the work that he or she is required to undertake.
- An employee’s dress or appearance should be respected unless it creates a hostile or offensive atmosphere for others.
- There should be a legitimate reason or aim for the requirements of a dress code and the requirements should be proportionate to achieving that aim (i.e. objectively justified).
- It is the responsibility of an employer to ensure that employees are actively made aware of any code of dress or appearance at work.
- An individual who is undergoing gender reassignment should be allowed to dress appropriately for the relevant sex.
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