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Drifting Dress Codes

Posted on 15th November 2017

Where is the guidance for employers about dress codes? Summer has long gone. The High Heels and Workplace Dress Code Report’s recommendation of prompt guidance by then (because it was suggested that the Government needs to do more and must do it quickly) has fallen on deaf ears it seems.

Equality Act – what’s that?

Quick action seems a proper recommendation given that the report recognised that this was an important issue for millions of workers many of whom are young women in insecure jobs feeling vulnerable. Factor in the fact that it was also put forward in the report that there are not enough disincentives to prevent employers from breaking the law in this area and that there appears to be a widespread misunderstanding of how the Equality Act 2010 works and the case for urgency just gets stronger.

The Government has accepted that awareness of the law is “patchy” and that there are “bad employers” who “knowingly flout the law”. Yet it has argued that Tribunals are about “restorative justice” which seems to let unscrupulous employers off the hook in the real world.

Tackling Discrimination

The Government has decided that no radical changes in the law are required but if the law is not working to protect against discrimination we need guidance, better understanding and a change in attitude and we need this sooner rather than later. The Government’s position that gender discrimination cannot be tackled with regulation alone is meaningless if it is not doing anything to achieve equality through other ways it has committed itself to such as raising awareness.

Dress Code Guidance

The guidance is supposed to advise employers what they can and cannot require employees to wear at work and will consider controversial dress code requirements to wear high heels, make-up, have manicures and have specific hairstyles, for example. The Government has already suggested that employers should re-visit their dress codes to check that they are “relevant and lawful”.

Less Favourable Treatment

The key to avoiding discrimination is ensuring that neither sex is treated less favourably. It is acceptable to have a dress code setting out different requirements for men and women to ensure business or smart dress standards. It should not be the case that the dress code for one sex is more demanding than for the other. It is the effect of the rule that counts.

High Heels

This is how Nicola Thorp’s petition about being forced to wear high heels at work came about in the first place and inspired the High Heels and Workplace Dress Code Report. Good luck to any employer trying to argue that a woman is going to perform her job better in heels or look more professional. Flat shoes are having a moment didn’t you know.

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