Employers ‘must change attitudes towards dress code discrimination’


Recruiters and employment lawyers suggest new legislation is not the answer

New legislation will be less effective in putting an end to so-called ‘dress code discrimination’ than a culture shift among organisations, experts have suggested, as the fallout continues from a parliamentary inquiry into workplace attire.

A report from the parliamentary committee for women and equalities recommended that a new legal framework was required to prevent women being forced into adopting significantly more stringent standards of dress than male colleagues. It also urged a publicity campaign to ensure employers were aware of their legal obligation not to discriminate, and suggested businesses guilty of discrimination through their dress code should be obliged to compensate employees.

The inquiry heard from female staff who were required to wear make-up, dye their hair, change hairstyle or wear a particular style of skirt. “It is clear that the existing law is not yet fully effective in protecting employees from discrimination at work. We call on the government to review this area of the law,” it concluded.

But while Tim Forer, employment specialist and barrister at Blake Morgan, said employers must take care to ensure that their dress codes are reasonable for the work in hand, and do not vary according to gender in a way that is discriminatory, he disagreed with the idea that the law needed updating. “The Equality Act 2010 is already a wide-ranging piece of legislation, but like any law it must be applied and enforced properly,” he said. “The more the law is applied correctly and enforced, the more effective it becomes.”

Jessica Williams, founder of recruitment agency Sidekicks – which specialises in PAs and executive assistants – said: “There needs to be real engagement from employers in the form of banishing outdated hiring practices to the history books. Legislation isn’t always the answer – increased public accountability often is.”

She added that implementing legislation without an “attitude adjustment” can “breed resentment and doesn’t fix the issues at hand”.

The inquiry was launched after a petition was raised by receptionist Nicola Thorp, an agency worker who was sent home after being asked to swap her flat shoes for heels. It was subsequently inundated with “troubling” examples of apparent discrimination from members of the public.

These included a female employee being threatened with dismissal if she refused to wear high heels, and a black candidate being considered for work at a department store being informed that she would not get the role unless she straightened her hair.

Another employee cited in the report, Emma Birkett, said that after questioning her employer’s dress code, which required high heels, she was “laughed at” and met with a remark stating that she would have plenty of time to rest her feet if she were unemployed.

Williams said she was also a victim of discrimination during her time working as a secretary, and was asked on several occasions to ensure that her nails were painted and she wore a full face of make-up. “I simply couldn’t see the relevance to my work – and still can’t,” she said.

But while Alan Price, chief executive of HR consultancy Croner Group, said such incidents were unacceptable, he added that there was another side to the story: “The most common situation I’ve heard about is where a dress code stipulates male staff have to wear a shirt and tie while females are only required to wear smart attire.”

The publication of the report coincides with research released by the Chartered Management Institute revealing that 81 per cent of managers witnessed gender discrimination in the workplace in 2016.

Story via – http://www2.cipd.co.uk/pm/peoplemanagement/b/weblog/archive/2017/01/26/employers-must-change-attitudes-towards-dress-code-discrimination.aspx

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