Does Your Company Dress Code Break The Law?

01/02/2017

Alex Pearce, employment law specialist explains how your business could be breaking the law in light of recent sexism claims.

Sexism in the workplace has been rife in recent news, with MPs demanding that the government look to enforce the law to ban sexist dress rules at work that are discriminatory against women.

The article, published by BBC News touched briefly upon the Equality Act 2010 and the legal standing that women have regarding discriminatory dress rules at work. We look more closely at this legislation to understand what is currently protected under its rule.

The Equality Act 2010 is concerned with discrimination and harassment in respect of the following protected characteristics:

  • Age;
  • Disability;
  • Gender Reassignment;
  • Marriage and civil partnerships;
  • Pregnancy
  • Maternity/paternity;
  • Race, religion or belief;
  • Sex;
  • Sexual orientation.

Under the Equality Act, it is unlawful for an employer to:

  • Discriminate directly by treating a job applicant or employee less favourably than others because of sex;
  • Discriminate indirectly by applying a provision, criteria or practice that disadvantages job applicants or employees of one sex without objective justification;
  • Subject a job applicant or employee to harassment relating to sex, sexual harassment or less favourably treatment because they reject or submit to harassment;
  • Victimise a job applicant or employee because they have made or intend to make a sex discrimination complaint under the Equality Act 2010 or because they have taken action or intend to take action in connection with the Act.

Discrimination in employment is generally prohibited, however, there are certain circumstances where an employer may have a defence in respect of an act of discrimination.  For example, there may be an occupational requirement; however, being sexy at work is not a job requirement. 

Employers can dismiss staff who fail to live up to “reasonable” dress code demands, as long as they’ve been given enough time to buy the right shoes and clothes.

The recent MPs report on high heels and workplace dress codes shows that employers are still breaching equality legislation.

The report recommends that a publicity campaign is launched to ensure employers are aware of their legal obligations. It is recommended that employers review their dress code policies and make sure that the dress code policy is reasonable and include equivalent requirements for both men and women.

The report also recommends that the government substantially increases the penalties available to employment tribunals to reward against employers including financial penalties.  As present, such penalties are not sufficient deterrent to breaking the law.

More information

Pinney Talfourd can advise on all areas of discrimination and harassment, both in the workplace and in the community. If you have been the victim of discrimination, victimisation or harassment please contact Alex Pearce in our Employment Law Team on alex.pearce@pinneytalfourd.co.uk or call 01708 229444 for advice.

This article was written by Alex Pearce, our Employment Law Associate at Pinney Talfourd Solicitors. The contents of this article are for the purposes of general awareness only. They do not purport to constitute legal or professional advice. Specific legal advice should be taken on each individual matter. The law may have changed since this article was published. This article is based on the law as of January 2017.

01/02/2017

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