Last month, the Government published its latest guidance for employers on how they should go about making sure that their dress codes do not discriminate against staff. This guidance comes after a petition was started in 2016 by an employee who was sent home for not coming to work in high heels.
The petition was started by Nicola Thorp, a receptionist from Hackney who was sent home in December 2015 for not turning up to her temporary job in high heels. Her employer’s dress code stated women were to wear two to four-inch heels. This story rapidly gained national media coverage and a public outcry led to Nicola starting a petition in 2016 to try and get the law changed, so employers could not force women to wear high heels to work. Unsurprisingly, the petition received a staggering 152,000 signatures and led to a new report ‘high heels and workplace dress codes’ being published by the Petitions and Women and Equalities Committees at the end of January 2017.
Following this report, the Government realised that they needed to revise how effective the Equality Act was in preventing employers from discriminating against employees on the grounds of how they dress for work. Then in April 2017, the Government decided they wouldn’t change the law regarding dress codes and would provide more detailed guidance for employers and employees in the summer instead. They also stated that they would create awareness campaigns on dress code laws.
The Government Equalities Office (GEO) released its latest guidance in May, ‘Dress codes and sex discrimination – what you need to know’. It states that ‘dress codes for men and and women do not have to be identical, but standards imposed should be equivalent’ and that ‘it is best to avoid gender specific prescriptive requirements, for example the requirement to wear high heels’.
It claims that under the Equality Act 2010 that a dress code could be unlawful if it requires women to wear high heels, due the discomfort and health issues that could follow. Female employees could also argue that they feel that they are being treated less favourably than their male co-workers.
Before creating or changing a dress code, employers should think carefully about the reasons behind the requirements and consult with employees first to check that everyone is on board with the rules. Once employees agree with the dress code, full guidance should then be communicated to all staff. It would not be unlawful to ask men to wear a shirt and tie, if women are also asked to dress smartly.
It’s imperative that when employers create a dress code that they consider potential health and safety risks such as slips, trips and injuries which could occur if they require staff to wear high heels for example.
The guidance states that reasonable adjustments should be made for disabled employees as imposing dress codes could be more difficult for them. Transgender employees should be allowed to dress in a way which matches their gender identity. When it comes to religious symbols, employers should not disallow employees to dress in clothes with a religious symbol, if this does not directly impact on employees doing their job.
If you want any further guidance on avoiding discrimination, our experienced and dedicated employment law consultants can provide expert advice and help ensure that you don’t discriminate against your employees.