Pair of high heels

High heels and headscarves: Can you tell your staff what to wear to work?

Last month Parliament discussed a report on “high heels and workplace dress code”. This followed a petition started by Nicola Thorp that has now been signed by over 150,000 people calling for it to be illegal for employers to require female employees to wear high heels at work.

You may recall an Employment Tribunal case last summer; Ms Thorp was sent home without pay when she refused to wear high heels as a receptionist at PWC’s offices. Her employer has since changed their policy but it was not deemed unlawful to require this dress code.

So what is lawful or unlawful when employers set dress codes for staff?

This petition has encouraged both men and women to speak out about concerns over sexist or inappropriate rules for dressing at work.

This is a difficult area to navigate and it is essential for employers to think carefully about any dress policy and ensure it is applied equally. You should be able to objectively justify and have a legitimate aim for your policies. A dress code could be legitimate for health and safety reasons or ensuring a reason of a level of smartness. If you want smart looking receptionists, however, then this could easily be achieved by female employers wearing smart shoes, be they flat or heels. It is a fact that high heels can cause back problems; you could be the recipient of a personal injury claim as well as a discrimination one.

What about headscarves? The recent European court case of Achbita v G4S Secure Solutions in Belgium decided that banning the wearing of a Muslim headscarf at work did not amount to direct discrimination. But is it safe to ban wearing all religious related items at work? Possibly, but only if you have a ‘legitimate aim’ in making this rule. One thing is certain, now is the time to review and consider carefully any dress codes you impose at work, written or unwritten.

If you require assistance why not contact the our Employment and HR team.