News & articles

Government Releases ‘Dress Code Guidance’ For Employers

May 22nd, 2018

Issues to do with discriminatory dress codes have made headline news in recent years, but with no clear guidance on how gendered dress codes can be applied in the workplace, employers were relying on their own decision-making and precedence of previous cases.

However, the government has now released new guidance to help employers ensure their dress code is not discriminatory. The guide, Dress code discrimination: what you need to know, has been created using recommendations made by Women and Equalities Select Committee and the Petitions Committee a year ago, in reaction to a case in 2016 where a female receptionist was sent home from not wearing heels in the workplace.

The case was that of Nicola Thorpe, who set up an online petition after the incident temping at PwC, stating that it should be illegal to force workers to wear heels. The agency’s ‘grooming policy’ was that two to four inch heels were a requirement.

The petition received 150,00 signatures and led to a parliamentary report which included evidence from hundreds of women who felt that they had fallen victim to a discriminatory dress code, or one which made them feel uncomfortable.

This report called for strict penalties for employers who continued to enforce dress codes which fell foul of guidance, however, the guidance released this week does not threaten to escalate penalties with employers.

The guide says that the dress code does not have to be identical for men and women, however, it does call for the ‘standards to be equivalent’. This means similar rules for both men and women. It also suggests that avoiding any gender specific dress code is preferential.

In regards to Nicola Thorpe’s situation, the guide gives examples of when a dress code would be unlawfully discriminatory. An employer can enforce dress code, such as employees should wear smart shoes, however, it is unlawful to enforce females to wear high heels.

When it comes to changing the dress code, the guide suggests: “It is good practice when setting or revising a dress code to consider the reasoning behind it. Consulting with employees, staff organisations and trade unions may better ensure that the code is acceptable to both the organisation and staff. Once agreed it should be communicated to all employees.”

Flexibility is also important – making reasons adjustments for disabled workers is important, and in regards to transgender employees, the guide states that they “should be allowed to follow the organisation’s dress code in a way which they feel matches their gender identity.” This wording can be interpreted as to adopting their choice from within the two dress codes, rather than strictly following either the male or female code.

However, according to Personnel Today, some experts have criticised the guide for not going far enough. The parliamentary report produced last year called for the government to implement a range of measures to ensure that both employees and employers understood anti-discriminatory behaviour in the workplace, however, the government believe that women, in particular, are adequately protected by the law as it stands.

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