Last week, the Government Equalities Office published updated guidelines for employers who set dress codes and for employees who may have to abide by them.

The guidelines provide more detail on the regulations employers can impose on their staff with regards to what they wear to work. Whilst dress codes can be a legitimate part of an employee’s terms of employment, the guidelines make clear that dress codes implementing controversial, gender related requirements are likely to be unlawful. Examples include the requirement for women to wear high heels, makeup or other gender specific items such as manicured nails or revealing clothing.

The guidelines, which were published on 17 May 2018, provide a requirement for similar standards for both men and women. They also provide for a need for an equivalent level of smartness between sexes. An example of this includes allowing both men and women to wear trousers in the workplace.

The guidelines also clarify that transgender employees should be allowed to follow the organisation’s dress code in a way which they feel matches their gender identity.

The new guidelines tie in with the emergence of the “dress for your day” policy – where employees are allowed to choose what they wear to work each day based on their own schedule.

Report from the Women and Equalities Committees

The guidance publication follows the joint report published by the Women and Equalities Committees on 25 January 2017. The report, which was considered by various organisations including Acas, the Health and Safety Executive and the Human Rights Commission, called on the Government to take urgent action to prevent discrimination in the work place as a result of sexist dress codes.

The Committees’ report was commissioned following the widespread response to a petition calling for a ban on dress codes which force women to wear high heels for work. The petition, which gained over 152,000 signatures in 2016, came after Nicola Thorp was sent home from her job as a Receptionist at a London accountancy firm after refusing to wear high heels for work.

Government Response

Whilst the Government has accepted that such sexist practices should not be part of the workplace in 2018, it has rejected the opportunity to introduce new legislation. Instead, we see the introduction of last week’s guidelines, which aim to help employers manage issues arising from workplace dress codes.

It is believed that the Government opted not to change current discrimination laws, or to introduce penalties for employers who implement sexist dress codes on the basis that scope for redress already exists by virtue of the Equality Act 2010, which makes it unlawful for employers to discriminate against an employee for reasons related to gender. Nevertheless, Maria Miller MP, chair of the Women and Equalities Committee said that “equality legislation is not sufficient to achieve equality in practice”.

However, it is hoped that the new guidelines will provide further clarity around discriminatory dress codes for parties facing, or hoping to avoid, litigation.

In light of the above it is recommended that employers review dress code provisions with discrimination in mind.

If you require any assistance with any of the above please contact Farleys Employment Law & HR team on 0845 287 0939 or submit your enquiry online.