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Gender specific dress codes that require women to wear make-up, high heels, skirts, have manicured nails, certain hairstyles or specific types of hosiery are likely to be unlawful and employers should avoid them, according to government guidance published today.
The publication of the guidance on dress codes and sex discrimination, follows calls from the Women and Equalities and Petitions Committees after a high-profile case in 2016 in which a woman was sent home for refusing to wear high heels. Some 150,000 people signed a petition calling for it to be illegal for an employer to require a woman to wear high heels as a result.
Although it states that dress codes can be a legitimate part of an employer’s terms and conditions of employment and that dress policies for men and women do not have to be identical, it says standards imposed should be equivalent. It states: “Dress codes must not be a source of harassment by colleagues or customers, for example, women being expected to dress in a provocative manner.”
The guidance also advocates that employers consult staff on changes to dress codes.
The inquiry by the Women and Equalities and Petitions Committees heard shocking stories of women suffering discrimination in the workplace, especially young women in insecure employment. They called on the Government to produce guidance to help employers and employees to understand the law.
Chair of the Petitions Committee, Helen Jones MP, said: “Our inquiry showed that the shocking treatment suffered by Nicola Thorp, who was sent home from work because she refused to wear high heels, was not an isolated incident. I am pleased that the Government has accepted that it needs to do more to tackle discriminatory practices in the workplace. This guidance is a good first step in helping employers and employees to understand their rights and legal duties. There is now a great deal of work to be done to promote this guidance so that its message is heard by as wide an audience as possible.”