Dress code rules: harsher fines for employers?

Dress code rules: harsher fines for employers?

A temporary worker was sent home from work in December 2015 for failing to adhere to a dress code stipulated by her employer. Nicola Thorp, who was employed by employment agency Portico, was sent home without pay from her temporary job at accountancy firm PwC for failing to wear ‘2in to 4in heels’.

Ms Thorp’s reasoning for not wearing heels was that it would be bad for her feet to wear heels all day. She also argued that her male colleagues were not subject to the same rules relating to dress code.

Ms Thorp said: “The company expected me to do a nine-hour shift on my feet escorting clients to meeting rooms. I told them that I just wouldn’t be able to do that in heels.”

Her story sparked a public outcry. So much so that Ms Thorp started a petition calling for a law to ensure that no employer could compel a woman wear heels to work again. The petition gathered over 150,000 signatures and led to an inquiry which would be overseen by two parliamentary committees.

The joint report, named ‘High Heels and Workplace Dress Code’ and commissioned by the Petitions Committee and the Women and Equalities Committee, was released on 25 January 2017.

During the inquiry, the committees were inundated with dress code-related stories which made it clear that the problem was far more wide-ranging than just shoes. Accounts received from women included being told which shade of nail varnish to wear, how often to reapply their make-up and being subject to rules concerning the degree of unbuttoning of their blouse.

The report states: “The Equality Act is clear in principle in setting out what constitutes discrimination in law,” it said. “Nevertheless, discriminatory dress codes remain commonplace in some sectors of the economy.

It therefore makes 3 key recommendations:

1. For the government to review this area of law and ask Parliament to amend it, if necessary, to make it more effective;
2. That detailed guidance as to how this area law should be implemented be issued targeted at employers, workers and students; and
3. That Employment Tribunals be allowed to impose harsher financial penalties on employers which continue to apply discriminatory dress code rules.

A government spokesperson said: “No employer should discriminate against workers on grounds of gender – it is unacceptable and is against the law. Dress codes must be reasonable and include equivalent requirements for both men and women.”

The report will be considered by the Government Equalities Office.

Click here to read the full report.