The House of Commons Petitions Committee and Equalities
Committee have published a joint report, '
High heels and workplace dress codes', which recommends
that the government urgently reviews the effectiveness of
discrimination law to challenge inappropriate dress codes. The
report is adamant that the requirement for women to wear high heels
is discriminatory and damaging to female workers' health and
wellbeing. Further, the report is critical of the lack of
effective sanctions for employers who impose discriminatory dress
codes in the workplace.
The deeper issue here is the scope of what is potentially
discriminatory. Should women to be required to wear make-up, have
regular manicures or have a certain skirt length at work? Should
men not be allowed facial hair? Updated guidance on these
controversial issues is due to be published by Acas and the Health
and Safety Executive by July 2017 and we will be following with
The July 2017 guidance is also expected to recommend more
significant financial penalties and the option of bringing an
injunction against employers who impose discriminatory dress codes
(although we question how effective an injunction would be in
practice – should all workers be made to wear high heels
What should employers do now?
Broadly, the law states that a provision, criterion or practice
is indirectly discriminatory if it puts one sex at a particular
disadvantage and such discrimination cannot be justified as a
proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim. There is a fine
balance between a discriminatory dress code and a requirement for
workers to dress appropriately and professionally for the
workplace. Employers should be cautious and consider whether their
dress codes could be considered humiliating, degrading to or
sexualising women when compared to men (or the other way around).
Careful review is particularly important in anticipation of more
severe penalties being imposed this summer.
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