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Dress Code Discrimination

A London City firm is at the centre of a sex discrimination scandal after a female worker was told to go home without pay for refusing to wear high heels.

Background

The worker attended the firm for her first day wearing flat shoes, ready to do a nine-hour shift.  She was told by bosses that she would be sent home without pay unless she went out and bought heels between 2 and 4 inches high to wear at work.

The worker has since started a petition calling for a ban on employers forcing women to wear high heels in the workplace which, up to now, has 124,000 signatures. The firm has quickly released a statement to confirm that the uniform policy is being reviewed and “updated with immediate effect”.

Discrimination

The appearance and presentation of employees can be a legitimate and important part of an employer’s business operations and reasonable dress codes are lawful. However, it is important that an employer does not impose a provision, criterion or practice (PCP) that puts a certain group at a disadvantage if it cannot justify the PCP to be a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.

Employers can set different dress codes for men and women, provided that it is necessary to achieve, for example, an “equivalent level of smartness”. However, imposing more stringent rules on one group than another i.e. imposing a dress code on all workers but with the requirement that women workers wear high heels, could arguably be a ‘sex’ based dress code and potentially means that women are being put at a disadvantage.  This can amount to discrimination unless the employer could show that the requirement to wear high heels was a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim – which is unlikely.

Summary

Employers should keep in mind potential issues when formulating dress codes. Consideration should be given to potential sex discrimination, religious sensitivities and the health and safety of workers.

Please feel free to contact us on 0191 282 2880 for a no obligation chat or email us if you require further advice regarding dress code policies or discrimination claims.

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