Government’s new guidance on workplace dress codes lacks enforcement measures

News Article

The Government has issued its guidance regarding dress codes in the workplace and ensuring they are not discriminatory, but the advice has come in for some criticism.

Entitled ‘Dress codes and sex discrimination: what you need to know’, the guidance is aimed at “employers who set dress codes” and “employees who may have to abide by them” and follows on from recommendations received from the Women and Equalities Select Committee early in 2017.

However, the lack of any measures designed to tackle businesses that enforce discriminatory dress codes has led to claims that the guidance disregards the proposals originally set out by the select committee.

The Government advice is a response to the inquiry launched in 2016, which followed on from the case of Nicola Thorp, a temporary receptionist working at PwC, who was ordered home from work for turning up in flat shoes.

This prompted her to set up an online petition, calling on a law to make it illegal for an organisation to force its employees to wear high heels. The petition received over 150,000 signatures, leading to the select committee inquiry, which took in the evidence of hundreds of women who had been forced to adhere to a dress code they were uncomfortable with or considered discriminatory.

A key finding of the inquiry and one that formed an essential part of its report was that the Government needed to take stronger measures, including stricter punishments, against companies enforcing discriminatory dress codes.

But the guidelines lack teeth on this matter, having fallen short of issuing anything in the way of additional penalties.

The key takeaway from the new guidance is: “Dress policies for men and women do not have to be identical. However, the standards imposed should be equivalent. This means there must be similar or equivalent rules laid down for both male and female employees.”

Lara Murray, a Palmers Associate and employment law expert, said: “Although it is good to see the Government making some form of effort to tackle discriminatory dress codes within the workplace, without the additional legislation there to enforce these guidelines, it all seems a little bit redundant.

“It is all well and good offering advice to employers on how they can ensure their employees are not made to feel uncomfortable or discriminated against, but the lack of measures to tackle those who deliberately abuse their position means those that do, will probably carry on doing so.”

If you feel you have been discriminated against in the workplace you may be entitled to compensation. To find out if you have a case, contact us today.