Dress codes and sex discrimination - The Government's response

Last month the Government Equalities Office published its long-overdue guidance on dress codes and sex discrimination in response to the 2015 Nicola Thorp “wear heels or go home” controversy and the corresponding report by the House of Commons Petitions Committee and the Women and Equalities Committee.

The guidance, which can be found in full at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/dress-codes-and-sex-discrimination-what-you-need-to-know, sets out advice for employers on their legal responsibilities when compiling a workplace dress code policy and advice to employees on what to do if they believe that their rights have been infringed.

In respect of employers, the government confirms that dress codes can be a legitimate part of an organisation’s terms and conditions of service and that while dress policies for men and women do not have to be identical, the standards imposed should be equivalent. Specific recommendations include:

  • Considering the reasoning behind having a policy.
  • Consulting with employees, staff organisations and trade unions to ensure that the policy is acceptable.
  • Considering the health and safety implications of any requirements.
  • Avoiding gender specific requirements such as wearing high heels.
  • Avoiding the prohibition of religious symbols which do not interfere with an employee’s work.
  • Considering reasonable adjustments to dress codes for disabled workers.
  • Allowing transgender employees to follow the organisation’s dress code in a way which they feel matches their gender identity.

In respect of employees, the government briefly recommends that an employee who considers their rights have been infringed should speak to their manager in the first instance and then to their employer's human resources department. It advises that help can also be obtained from an employee's trade union, ACAS and EHRC.

Unfortunately, it appears that the government’s guidance on this matter has fallen short in a number of ways. It does not protect the rights of workers like Nicola Thorp herself and, therefore, not only overlooks the entire genesis of the matter but also finds itself at odds with the Equality Act 2010. It fails to impose stricter penalties on employers who enforce discriminatory dress codes, in turn, failing to pack the proverbial punch which the Committees had asked for in their report. Some would even go so far as to say that the government has paid mere lip service to an issue which merits a far more detailed analysis.

CONTACT BETH

If you would like more information or advice relating to this article or an Employment law matter, please do not hesitate to contact Beth Leng 01727 798046.

Read the latest Employment Views & Insights
They seek to understand their clients and advise accordingly to achieve the outcomes that they require for their business needs.
Chambers and Partners
SA Law Work Life red mug and glasses
SA Law Employment Laptop
Views & Insights
Employee status – what’s in a label?

SA Law's employment team explore the importance of establishing 'employment status'

Read More
Stained glass window Employment SA Law
Views & Insights
How more widespread flexible working could improve equality

The pandemic has altered perceptions of flexible working for the better. As we move forward, it could be the key to unlocking true gender equality in…

Read More
SA Law Employment Laptop
Views & Insights
Gender-critical beliefs capable of protection by Equality Act

A woman who lost her job after tweeting that people cannot change their biological sex has won her appeal against an employment tribunal

Read More
Phone Box with Man in a Bowler Hat
As there is so much expertise on offer from SA Law they can provide a legal expert on all areas so that it can be handled under one roof.
Legal 500
Stained glass window Employment SA Law
Views & Insights
What HR needs to know about rolling out 'family-friendly' policies

Employment partner, Beth Leng, features on HR Grapevine podcast

Read More
SA Law Employment Laptop
Views & Insights
Mental Health Awareness Week 2021 : 10th - 16th May

Employment expert, Beth Leng, explores the importance that this event holds when reflecting on the last year and looking to the future.

Read More
Stained glass window Employment SA Law
Views & Insights
Return to work: calling all commuters!

What to expect as we return to ‘regular’ life post-lockdown

Read More
SA Law Employment Laptop
Views & Insights
FAQs: Coronavirus Vaccinations and the workplace

As the UK’s COVID-19 vaccination rollout continues, employers should prepare for its impact on their workforce, potential employment law pitfalls and…

Read More
They are knowledgeable, with a commercial mindset, but also down to earth and friendly so it is easy to be very honest with them.
Chambers and Partners

© SA LAW 2021

Every care is taken in the preparation of our articles. However, no responsibility can be accepted to any person who acts on the basis of information contained in them alone. You are recommended to obtain specific advice in respect of individual cases.