Changes ahead for discriminating Dress Codes Jan 2017

In May 2016 Price Waterhouse Coopers (PwC) came under fire for sending Nicola Thorp, a temporary receptionist, home without pay because she breached their company dress code by refusing to wear high heels at work.

Thorp set up a petition to make it illegal for companies to enforce heel wearing on female employees which attracted more than 150,000 signatures, prompting an enquiry by MPs.

The findings, published on Wednesday 25 January 2017, stated that MPs received responses from hundreds of women who have experienced pain and long term damage due to wearing high heels for long periods of time at work. In addition to this there was also many troubling examples of sexism in relation to company dress code. Along with the requirement to wear high heels there were examples of being required to wear revealing outfits, dyeing hair blond and constantly reapplying make-up.

Furthermore, inequality wasn’t just related to gender, in one example a black female was told she would need to chemically straighten her hair to be suitable for the role when applying to Harrods.

The report concluded that whilst it is an employers obligation to inform themselves about their legal obligations in relation to the law, this strategy is not effective and breaches of Equality law are commonplace in some sectors. Therefore the report urges the Government to do more and quickly.

The report suggests three main measures as solutions to this current problem:

• There is criticism that the Equality Act 2010 is not fully effective in protecting employees from discrimination at work and therefore and the Government should review this area of law and ask Parliament to amend this to make it more effective.
• For Employment Tribunals to award against employers who breach the law.
• To provide detailed guidance and awareness campaigns for employers, workers and students.

The report makes clear that businesses are still able to determine their own dress code, within the confines of equality law which require restrictions to be reasonable, suitable and appropriate to the work environment. The report also calls for employers to consider the health and wellbeing risks of a dress code for example in relation to wearing high heels, individuals may experience long-term musculoskeletal damage, and may alter breathing patterns and concentration.

Whilst exact changes are yet to be confirmed, it is important that Employers review their current Dress Code and Appearance expectations to explore if there may be areas which could result in inequality. You may want support to review your current dress code policies or think about putting in place a policy into your business.

If you would like support from Tamar HR please contact an advisor so we may review this for you.

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