In 2015, Nicola Thorp arrived to work as a receptionist wearing flat shoes and was sent home without pay by her agency for failure to comply with its dress code, which required women to wear shoes with heels of between two and four inches. The story received widespread media coverage and Ms Thorp started a petition calling for the law to be changed to make it illegal to require women to wear high heels at work. More than 150,000 people signed the petition.
The House of Commons Petitions Committee and the Women and Equalities Committee subsequently carried out a joint inquiry, focusing in particular on hospitality (especially bar, waitressing and club work), retail, hotels and tourism, travel and airlines, corporate services and agency work was published. The report concluded that being required to wear high heels is damaging to female workers’ health and wellbeing, and that certain other dress code requirements make some female workers feel uncomfortable and sexualised by their employer. The report made recommendations in three main areas: that the government should review this area of the law; that more effective remedies should be available against employers who breach the law, including injunctions against potentially discriminatory dress codes; and that detailed guidance and awareness campaigns targeted at employers and workers should be developed.
On 20 April 2017, the government published its response to the report. It states that the government should work to ensure women are not held back in the workplace by outdated attitudes and practices. However, the government has rejected any recommendations that would require legislative change, favouring an approach based on more detailed guidance and awareness campaigns. This is because the government believes that existing law is sufficient to protect women who are subjected to discriminatory dress codes. The response states that “we are clear that a dress code that makes significantly more demands of female employees than of their male colleagues will be unlawful direct sex discrimination”
If you have a dress code policy in your practice, it should be reviewed to ensure it does not breach the current discrimination legislation.
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