A petition by Nicola Thorp, who was sent home from her first day in a temporary receptionist job with city accountancy firm PwC for not wearing high heels, has sparked a debate about sexism and dress codes at work. Coodes Solicitor Philip Sayers, considers the legal issues.
“It has been really interesting to watch this debate unfold as it raises so many questions. Employers do have a say on what their staff wear, but any dress code should be reasonable and it should also be made clear to everyone. For some roles this might need to be very specific – for example, if you are working in a clothes shop it would be reasonable to expect you to wear the retailer’s clothes and restaurant staff will probably have a uniform of some sort.
“For most companies, however, it is wise to avoid anything too specific in a dress code policy. While it would be reasonable to state that staff need to be dressed smartly, particularly if they are in client-facing roles, a business should seriously question its reason for having a specific item of clothing in its policy. This is particularly important if there is the potential for discrimination against any group. Pregnant women, for example, should avoid wearing high heels and there may be reasons why people of particular ethnic groups or with disabilities may not be able to comply with some dress codes.
“The case against high heels is particularly strong as many women find them uncomfortable. In fact, the College of Podiatry has warned employers not to make women wear high heels at work because they can cause back problems, ankle sprains and other health problems.
“So, if you do need to have a dress code for your business – and this is a good idea if your staff are in client, customer or public facing roles, or if the organisation wants to give a very specific image – then carefully consider your reasons behind what you are asking staff to wear. Unfortunately, this case and all the publicity makes the business look out of date, sexist and unreasonable. For me, the most important question would always be: “Can this person do the job?”
For more information on this or any Employment enquiries contact Philip Sayers on 0800 328 3282 or firstname.lastname@example.org