In 2016 there should be no expectation that women in business should wear make-up or high heels in order to be smartly dressed. Yet there have been a number of high profile cases reported in the press about sex discrimination at work relating to dress codes.
We have also noted an increase in the number of clients referencing comments made by their employers about their appearance. So, in order to discover how common this problem is we have commissioned a study of over 2,000 UK employees and we are examining the law, dress codes and unlawful discrimination in a series of blogs.
Our research, which revealed that almost one in 10 women have been told by their boss to wear more make-up at work, shows that unlawful gender discrimination is prevalent in the UK with women from many employment sectors impacted.
Individuals who work in IT & telecoms, HR and finance as well as in healthcare, legal and professional services industry have been told by their boss to wear more make-up, put on high heels and to wear shorter skirts and more revealing tops to work.
Some might be shocked to find out from our research that women at work have been told to dress more provocatively or ‘sexier’ in the workplace. However, we have noticed an increase in the number of professionals coming to us with discrimination cases where their employers have overstepped the mark making comments about their appearance.
It is sad to think that 86 per cent of those who suffered this form of discrimination felt like their career might suffer if they didn’t do what their boss wanted. It is also worrying that our study found women who felt they had physically suffered as a result of dress code demands from wearing lots of make-up every day, from wearing high heels and from wearing clothing that was too tight.
Wearing heels or make-up is not a necessary part of dressing smartly or being well groomed. Employers’ dress codes should not have different rules for people of a different gender as this may amount to unlawful discrimination under the Equality Act 2010. You should not have to put up with this kind of treatment and can make a complaint to your employer by way of raising a formal grievance if informal attempts as resolution are unsuccessful.
Harriet Bowtell is a senior employment lawyer and Slater and Gordon in London.