You may remember that a petition of more than 150,000 signatures was generated after Nicola Thorp was sent home from a new job at PwC after staff agency Portico required female employees only to wear high heels “between two and four inches high. She had refused to change out of her flat shoes. As a result, the government announced last year that it would consider issuing new guidelines on dress codes and has now published them.
It has had input from the Government Equalities Office, Acas, the Equality and Human Rights Commission and the Health and Safety Executive, after parliamentary committees called for stronger regulation.
However, the government response to the petition and subsequent parliamentary scrutiny said it preferred not to change current discrimination law to impose penalties on employers forcing women to wear particular clothing or shoes to work, despite evidence that the practice was widespread.
The government added that it believed the Equality Act 2010 was adequate to tackle employers’ discriminatory dress practices and The Government Equalities Office has issued a new guidance on Dress Codes. See https://bit.ly/2x8C33r
While a dress code can be used by you as an employer to make sure workers are safe and dressed appropriately, it should relate to that job and be “reasonable” in nature, such as a requirement that kitchen workers tie back or cover their hair for hygiene, for example.
Dress codes, however, must not discriminate in respect of the Equality Act’s protected characteristics: age, disability, gender reassignment, religion or belief, sex or sexual orientation. Employers may still have health and safety reasons for having certain standards. Employers must also make reasonable adjustments for disabled people regarding dress codes.
Acas have said that any dress code “should not be stricter, or lead to a detriment, for one gender over the other”, particularly as “wearing high heels can cause physical pain and even harm, and therefore may lead to a successful claim of direct discrimination on grounds of sex”.
And don't forget - if you specify that employees must wear certain clothing, e.g. black trousers or skirt to go with a company logo polo shirt that you provide, you should ensure that you pay an allowance to cover the purchase of the clothing so that you don't potentially breach the National Minimum Wage regulations.
If you wish to review your dress code, please get in touch for advice.