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Fine Employers For Sexist Dress Rules, Say MPs

Fine Employers For Sexist Dress Rules, Say MPs

sexist dress code policy at work

MPs on the parliamentary committees for petitions and for women and equalities have called on the government to enforce the law to ban sexist dress rules in the workplace that discriminate against women.

Their report, High Heels and Workplace Dress Codes, is a response to the experience of Nicola Thorp, who reported for work in 2015 as a receptionist at the professional services firm PwC in flat shoes. She was sent home without pay after refusing to buy a pair with at least a two-inch heel despite pointing out that men were not required to wear similar attire.

Ms. Thorp’s parliamentary petition on the issue attracted more than 150,000 signatures. As a consequence of her petition, the women and equalities committee and the petitions committee invited the public to send in other examples of discriminatory dress codes.

Evidence suggests the Equality Act 2010 is not protecting workers

MPs said they were inundated with “troubling” examples which were evidence that the Equality Act 2010 is not protecting workers.

“We heard from hundreds of women who told us about the pain and long-term damage caused by wearing high heels for long periods in the workplace, as well as from women who had been required to dye their hair blonde, to wear revealing outfits and to constantly reapply makeup,” the report said.

The report said the Equality Act 2010 should ban discriminatory dress rules at work, but in practice, the law is not applied properly to protect workers of either gender.

“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 . . . We call on the government to review this area of the law and to ask parliament to change it, if necessary, to make it more effective.”

Helen Jones MP, chair of the petitions committee, said: “The way that Nicola Thorp was treated by her employer is against the law, but that didn’t stop her being sent home from work without pay . . . It’s clear from the stories we’ve heard from members of the public that Nicola’s story is far from unique.”

Call for campaign to ensure employers know their legal obligations

The report recommends a publicity campaign be launched to ensure employers know their legal obligations and workers know how they can complain effectively.

Its key recommendation is that the existing law should be enforced more vigorously, with employment tribunals being given the power to apply bigger financial penalties.

The report also says guilty employers should be required to pay compensation to every worker affected by their discriminatory rules.

Following Ms Thorp’s complaint, Portico, the staffing agency supplying workers to PwC, said it had dropped the requirement that female employees “wear heels between two and four inches high”.

Too many employers are still stuck in the past on dress codes, says TUC

In response to the MPs’ report, 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 Government Equalities Office will carefully consider this report and will work with its partners to make sure employers comply with the law,” added the spokesperson.

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Far too many employers are still stuck in the past when it comes to dress codes. It is unacceptable that in 2017 bosses are still forcing women to wear painful, inappropriate shoes and uniforms.”

But Ms O’Grady warned that the high cost of employment tribunals, up to £1,200 according to the TUC, meant that “many women can’t afford to challenge sexist policies” and she called on ministers to do away with tribunal fees.

The MPs’ report comes as new research from the Chartered Management Institute shows four out of five managers have witnessed some form of gender discrimination or bias, such as women struggling to make themselves heard and getting paid less than a male colleague.

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