You may remember that in 2015 Nicola Thorp was sent home from work for turning up in flat shoes rather than the 2-4” heels that her employers specified she wear in the workplace. Her case was well reported and resulted in Ms Thorp starting a government petition to legislate against employers imposing a high heel requirement of women at work, claiming that formal dress codes are out-dated and sexist.
As the petition gained more than 150,000 signatures it was debated in the House of Commons on 6th March 2017. The Government refused to implement new legislation on account of the Equality Act 2010 which was said to already make sufficient provision to protect women against discrimination at work.
As a compromise the Government have now issued new guidance on the subject of dress codes in the workplace which you can read here.
The guidance confirms that dress codes can be a legitimate part of an employer’s terms and conditions of employment but suggests that whilst it is not necessary to have the same code for men and women, the standards imposed should be equivalent and it is best to avoid gender specific prescriptive requirements, such as high heels to be worn by women.
The guide also suggests that a gender specific requirement such as wearing make-up, skirts, manicured nails, certain hairstyles and hosiery is likely to be unlawful. It further summarises the state of place in UK case law which is to say that an employer ought not to restrict the wearing of religious symbols that do not interfere with an employee’s work.
Whilst the legal position remains the same the Government guidance may well be a useful reference for employers. It includes some examples of codes that may not be lawful, a list of frequently asked questions and some further sources of information. Opsium’s dedicated team of specialist employment law advisers are able to offer support on drafting or simply revisiting your employee dress codes to ensure that you are not at risk of discrimination claims.