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Inquiry Finds Discriminatory Dress Codes Commonplace

Inquiry Finds Discriminatory Dress Codes Commonplace

Discriminatory dress codes are commonplace in several industries according to the UK Government’s Petitions Committee.

The inquiry began after an agency worker, Nicola Thorp, was sent home without pay for refusing to wear high heels. 

Nicola subsequently set up a petition to encourage employers to adopt a gender neutral dress code and bring a stop to female employees experiencing dress code discrimination. Her petition received so many signatures it required a response from the Government and consideration for a debate in Parliament.  

Alongside agency work, the worst industries for dress code discrimination were reportedly hospitality, corporate services, tourism and retail.

The Petitions Committee said: “The Government has said that the existing law is clear, and that the dress code that prompted this petition is already unlawful.

“Nevertheless, discriminatory dress codes remain widespread. It is, therefore, 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 and to ask Parliament to change it, if necessary, to make it more effective.”

After agency worker Nicola Thorp’s petition reached over 150,000 signatures, the Petitions Committee discovered that her experience of dress code discrimination was not an isolated event.

MPs have listened to female workers who have had long term damage caused by wearing high heels in the workplace as well as women who have been forced to reapply make-up throughout the day, unbutton their blouses and even wear short skirts at work.

The Petitions Committee concluded that the current approach of expecting employers to inform themselves about their legal obligations and comply with the law is not working saying that the penalties in place for employers breaking the law in this regard are insufficient.

They have recommended that the Government substantially increases the financial penalties the Employment Tribunal can award against employers and does more to promote understanding of the law on gender discrimination in the workplace.