Is your image keeping your staff down at heel?

February 10, 2017

The case of Nicola Thorp continues to run and run – unlike Nicola herself, who was hamstrung by a rule that she must wear high heels to work.


You’ll recall that Ms Thorp was a temporary receptionist who favoured flatties over the prescribed two to four-inch heels. She was sent home without pay from PricewaterhouseCoopers when she refused to follow the dress code regarding footwear. Her objection was that it was discriminatory to treat female staff less favourably than their male counter-parts by requiring them to wear high-heeled shoes.

At the time, I concluded that Nicola did indeed have a potential claim for sex discrimination.

In the latest development, a parliamentary report has this week gone further. It has suggested that a review of equality legislation and a new legal framework may be required to protect staff from discrimination.

However, many businesses do have a particular brand or image which they have worked hard to develop and maintain. Some have particular health and safety requirements or customer expectations to meet. A dress code or uniform can play an important role in achieving these legitimate business aims. 

So how can an employer enforce standards of dress whilst guarding against the risk of claims for discrimination on grounds such as sex, disability, religion or gender re-assignment?

The first step is for employers to consider carefully why a dress code is needed and specifically what goal they wish to achieve by having it. Once this goal is understood it is easier to produce logical rules and policies to achieve it, but such rules must still be applied even handedly between all staff. For female staff, it may be necessary to revise conventional views of workwear: mandatory skirts and high heels were once ubiquitous, but are no longer the norm.

If you can be flexible in adapting your dress code to members of staff with a particular protected characteristic you will be less likely to encounter problems and more likely to achieve your goal. Your refusal to allow an exception to the dress code  may be easier to justify if you can explain what you are trying to achieve and why that exception is not compatible with your goal.

When it comes to your business, we can tailor a dress code to suit your business needs. Enquiring costs nothing so call us today with your professional measurements.

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