In 2015, Nicola Thorp, an administrator temp was sent home from a job. Not because of her ability to perform her tasks but because of her refusal to wear 2 – 4 inch heels. Her response was to campaign for legislation to be tightened in relation to “sexist” dress codes: a campaign which gained considerable public support and a petition with 152,400 signatures.

Numerous examples

During the hearings that followed, various examples were heard where employers had enforced appearance standards on women which were not forced upon men, including a black female being told to straighten her hair and women told to unbutton their blouses or have manicures.

Government decision

Last week the government rejected the call to legally ban dress codes which force women to wear high heels to work. The Government has stated that it believes the current legislation is “adequate” and prevents discrimination but did agree that new guidelines on dress codes will be issued later this year to assist employers and workers to understand the legislation and improve awareness.

The Government Equalities Office has stated that all employers should review their dress codes, check that they are “lawful” and have equivalent requirements for both men and women.

Due to the press exposure this case, amongst others, has received, appearance and dress codes at work are becoming more important. The introduction of “dress down Fridays”, a more relaxed attitude to business attire in fashion and society,  and uncertainty of what is acceptable is leaving both employers and employees at risk.

Educate on appropriateness

We would advise that your HR strategy needs to include ensuring that everyone is educated on what is expected and acceptable.

There may be a genuine business reason why certain dress codes are policy i.e. uniform to ensure customers can identify staff members easily, or due to health and safety issues.  However, a dress code policy must not result in discrimination as defined by the Equality Act 2010.

Do you have a dress code policy in place? Are you confident that it is legal and appropriate to your business needs?

If you need HR advice or support on reviewing, or creating, a dress code policy, we would be happy to discuss your options. We’re a friendly bunch and are driven by making a difference to your business by finding a solution that works for you, so call us on 01473 360160 or arrange a free one hour consultation.

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