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Government dress code guidance expected this summer

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The government has encouraged employers to review their dress codes.

Earlier in the year, the Petitions and Women and Equalities Committees (the Committees) published their report on high heels and workplace dress codes. You may recall that these two House of Commons committees were asked to investigate the issues after more than 150,000 people petitioned for it to be illegal for a company to require its female staff to wear high heels at work.

(See our article of 31 January 2017)

The government has now responded to the Committee’s report, stating that:

  • it welcomes the Committees’ work and recommendations;
  • employment practices which appear sexist, unacceptable and potentially unlawful should not be part of the workplace in 2017;
  • it takes the issue of sexist dress codes very seriously and will continue to work hard to ensure women are not held back in the workplace by out-dated attitudes and practices; and
  • is committed to enhancing the role of women and removing barriers to equality, (including out-dated attitudes and practices), by tackling the gender pay gap, increasing the number of women on boards, increasing support for childcare costs and ensuring that employers are aware of their obligations to pregnant women.

While the government thinks that awareness of the law protecting women among employers and employees is “patchy”, it believes that:

  • the scope for redress already exists under Part 5 of the Equality Act 2010 (the Act). The Act prohibits direct sex discrimination, which occurs where one employee (or applicant) is treated less favourably than another by their employer because of their sex;
  • a dress code that makes significantly more demands of female employees than of their male colleagues will be unlawful under the Act; and
  • it is already unlawful to victimise a person for making a complaint for example by demotion or dismissal about such conduct.

The government believes no further changes to the law are needed

Accordingly, the government considers no further changes are needed to the law. Instead, they want to issue detailed guidance, take action to raise awareness and knowledge of employees’ rights and employers’ responsibilities and rely on "persuasive enforcement" by the Equalities and Human Rights Commission.

The government also had a specific suggestion for employers:

“Changing attitudes and raising awareness is … crucial in removing the barriers to equality, and building a fairer society. We are taking this opportunity to challenge all employers with dress codes to review them and consider whether they remain relevant and lawful.” (Paragraph 10 of the introduction)

We would also suggest that those employees who do not have dress codes should consider whether they need a dress code policy.

Further information

You can read the government’s specific responses to the Committees’ recommendations here.

To read more about workplace dress codes check out other articles on our website:

Checklist on dress codes in the workplace

Why you may be missing out on talent if you stigmatise tattoos

Can an employer ban Islamic headscarves at work?

If you are dealing with an issue involving your workplace dress code or would like help in preparing a dress code policy, get in touch with:

Susan Mayall or Make an enquiry today.

Please note that the information and opinions contained in this article are not intended to be comprehensive, nor to provide legal advice. No responsibility for its accuracy or correctness is assumed by Pearson Solicitors and Financial Advisers Ltd or any of its members or employees. Professional legal advice should be obtained before taking, or refraining from taking, any action as a result of this article.

This blog was posted some time ago and its contents may now be out of date. For the latest legal position relating to these issues, get in touch with the author - or make an enquiry now.

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