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Widespread Discrimination for Company Dress Codes

Last year we saw the highly publicised incident of Nicola Thorp being sent home from her position at PwC for not wearing high heels - the temporary receptionist refused to wear the 2 to 4 inch high heels on the grounds that she was going to be on her feet most of the day and was sent home without pay. In the news this week, an investigation has shown that there is widespread discrimination when it comes to dress codes in our workplaces. The inquiry was launched as a result of a petition set up by Ms Thorp which, having gained more than 152,000 signatures, was earlier debated by MPs. The Petitions Committee report said that hundreds of women had shared their stories about the pain caused by wearing high heels for long periods, requirements to wear revealing outfits and constantly reapply make-up.

There are many reasons why as an employer you may want to have a workplace dress code in place, such as for safety reasons, corporate branding or to maintain a certain level of business attire for employers, but you must be certain to avoid any unlawful discrimination in your policy. It must also be appropriate to the nature of the role your employers are undertaking. For example, you may justifiably require workers not to wear certain items of jewellery or clothing when operating machinery, you may also ask those in catering roles to ensure their hair is tied back and covered. You may also expect a reasonable standard of business attire for employees whose jobs require them to have face to face contact with clients, but this does not mean it is appropriate to dictate a particular heel height or criticise an employee for not wearing enough make up, if their appearance is otherwise smart and tidy. There are other areas that often cause much controversy and must be dealt with cautiously such as tattoos, body piercings and of course, religious dress.

Any dress code you have in place must be free from any form of discrimination, for example sexual, racial or disability.  It should be practical and proportionate and must be clearly laid out in a company policy which is readily available for employers to see. If your policy fits these criteria, then you will most likely be justifiable in taking disciplinary action against any employee that breaches it – but make sure you are taking a fair and considered action to avoid any potential legal backlash from the employee.

If you would like any help with reviewing or drafting your company dress code to prevent falling foul of the law, contact one of our specialist Park City HR consultants today.


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