Employment dress code policies – what does the law say?
Published 13 May 2016
In this blog, we take a look at an employment-related story that gained prominence in the news and media this week of a 27 year old woman who was sent home without pay for refusing to wear high-heels at work.
The story relates to an employment incident that took place in a London office in December 2015. Nichola Thorpe, a temp receptionist, was informed that the flat shoes she was wearing were not appropriate, and that she should purchase a pair of shoes with a heel between 2-4 inches or risk being sent home without pay.
When Ms Thorpe queried this decision – stating that she felt discriminated against as male colleagues were allowed to wear flat shoes – she was allegedly laughed at.
Ms Thorpe has since started an online petition, which within days has garnered over 120,000 signatures, meaning that it must be considered for Parliamentary debate. In the petition she states that ‘current formal work dress codes are outdated and sexist’ and calls for a change to dress code laws.
UK employment law states that employers can set specific dress codes for their employees on the condition that it relates to their job and is reasonable in nature. Although dress code standards cannot be identical for both male and female staff, employers must set out a common policy for both, in order to avoid discrimination.
MKB Law’s Employment solicitor, Suzanne Keenan, offers this advice: “Employers should carefully consider the legality of male and female dress codes prior to implementing them in the work place in order to avoid exposure to claims for sex discrimination.
“I can provide advice and assistance regarding dress codes, which may or may not constitute discrimination, in order to best protect my clients from the negative publicity and expenses associated with defending such litigation.”