A waitress has been awarded more than £3,500 after winning a sex discrimination Tribunal against an employer that requested she wear a skirt and make-up to be “easy on the eye” for customers.
The day after refusing her manager’s request, Erin Sandilands – who was employed on a zero-hours contract – was told she would not be offered any more shifts.
Sandilands was a waitress for around two weeks at Cecchini’s Bistro in Ardrossan, Ayrshire, before her boss – restaurant owner Anthony Cecchini – requested that she wear her hair down and put on a “full face of make-up” and a skirt so that she’d be “easy on the eye”.
The dress code at the restaurant at the time only specified that staff should wear all black. Sandilands argued that she chose to wear trousers to be comfortable, as well as using minimal make-up and keeping her hair up, but that she looked presentable.
In her written judgment, tribunal judge Ms McManus found that the manager’s comments amounted to sex discrimination towards Sandilands since he would not have made them to a male employee.
The judgment also found that Cecchini’s conduct amounted to harassment and led to a “degrading and humiliating” working environment. She awarded the 18-year-old £2,500 in compensation for injury to her feelings and £1,060 in lost wages.
Sandilands told the BBC: “My boss said he would rather I wore a skirt because it was more feminine, and he would rather I wore more make-up and my hair [down] because it looks better. I argued back that I didn’t really feel I should have to.
“As long as I look presentable, clean and tidy, and I do my job well, it shouldn’t really matter whether I’ve got a skirt or trousers on, a full face of make-up or no make-up at all. I felt humiliated. It’s hard enough as it is being a girl in this day and age, and conforming to stereotypes, without someone telling you that you’re not feminine enough.”
Cecchini argued that Sandilands was not being offered any further shifts because of a lack of custom. But the tribunal heard that, in the same week, he increased the hours of other staff and hired a new waiter. The owner said the claims made at the tribunal were “untrue” and plans to appeal.
Speaking after the case, Laura Bates, founder of the Everyday Sexism Project, said such workplace sexual discrimination cases were more prevalent than many people imagined. “I can’t tell you how common this is. We have collected literally thousands of these stories about women being pressured at work,” she said. “There’s a constant focus on women’s bodies and women’s dress – it just isn’t happening to men. This isn’t acceptable and it isn’t okay and it is alright to speak up and complain about it.”
The House of Commons is gathering evidence on workplace dress rules as part of a wider enquiry into gender equality. It follows the high-profile case of a receptionist who was sent home for refusing to wear high heels.