High heels case is a timely reminder for employers on sexist dress codes

A joint report from two Parliamentary committees says that the Equality Act 2010 should be properly enforced to ban sexist dress rules at work, that discriminate against women. 

The report, entitled High Heels and Workplace Dress Codes, follows the story of Nicola Thorp, who was sent home from work in December 2015 for not wearing high heels. The report found that the Act should ban discriminatory dress rules at work, but in practice the law is not applied properly to protect workers of either gender. 

Employment Law expert and partner at Howes Percival, Simon DeMaid, commented on the findings: "This is a timely reminder that dress codes can be a minefield for employers, for many different reasons, including the nature of the work being carried out and cultural and religious issues in the workplace. 

"The general guidance we would give is to avoid being too specific. It is key that dress codes must apply to both men and women equally, although they may have different requirements.  Case law establishes that dress codes will not normally be discriminatory if an even handed approach is taken between men and women and dress requirements are based on conventional standards of, for example, ‘smartness'."    

Howes Percival has five top tips for organisations on dress codes: 

  • Be clear at the outset on what you are looking to achieve and why;
  • Avoid being prescriptive about what should be worn if the aim is just to ensure that staff are smart or projecting a professional image and consider current conventions;   
  • Set out what you do regard as unacceptable e.g. beachwear (unless you employ lifeguards!);
  • Make it clear how the code will take into account cultural and religious requirements;
  • Set out the implications of a failure to comply with the code. 

Posted by: Howes Percival

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