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Employment law

High profile dress code discrimination cases

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.

16 September 2016

Two of the most high profile cases to be reported in the last year include an air hostess and a receptionist who were both told to wear high heels at work.

How did Nicola Thorp's case progress?

This 27 year old receptionist was working as a temp for PriceWaterhouseCoopers in Embankment, London when she was sent home for refusing to buy and wear heels. The accounting firm outsources its front of house staff and reception services to a third party called Portico.

Part of the Portico formal dress code was for women to wear high heels. So when Nicola turned up to work in flat business shoes she was told that she must wear shoes with a heel between two and four inches. Nicola refused to go out and buy a pair and was then sent home without pay.

She has since launched a petition to change dress code laws so that women have the option to wear flat formal shoes at work, if they wish. The petition to make it illegal for a company to require women to wear high heels at work has now reached over 150,000 signatures.

Government response

By passing the 100,000 mark it forced the Government to respond. In response, the Government Equalities office said: “Company dress codes must be reasonable and must make equivalent requirements for men and women. This is the law and employers must abide by it.

“Employers are entitled to set dress codes for their workforce but the law is clear that these dress codes must be reasonable. That includes any differences between the nature of rules for male and female employees, otherwise the company may be breaking the law. Employers should not be discriminating against women in what they require them to wear.

“The Government takes this issue very seriously and will continue to work hard to ensure women are not discriminated in the workplace by outdated attitudes and practices.”

Portico have since taken on board comments about footwear and have dropped the requirement for female employees to wear heels between two and four inches high are set to review their uniform guidelines more broadly.

What discrimination did Ruth Campion experience?

This air hostess, who worked for British Airways, said that she was made to feel ‘akin to being prostituted’ and gave evidence to MPs at an inquiry on dress codes claiming that B.A. deliberately made the dress code for women “sexier” from 2010 onwards.

Sexualisation allegations

Ruth alleged that she was made to wear items of uniform that sexualised her appearance or enhanced her sexuality, leaving her feeling dehumanised and humiliated. She reported that cabin crew were forced to re-apply make-up, avoid wearing ‘frumpy’ cardigans and flatten their hair in order to appear sexier.

Contact us

You do not have to put up with sex discrimination or sexual harassment in relation to what you wear or otherwise at work – whatever the nature of the sex discrimination you feel you have experienced, our expert lawyers can give you legal advice.

Call us on 0330 041 5869 or contact us online and we'll call you.

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