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Height of nonsense?

A line of Alexandra Burke’s song “All the ladies tell the fellas we can do what they can do, we can do it even better in broken heels!” has been in my head over the last few weeks.

Since social media exploded with the news of receptionist, Nicola Thorp, who was sent home from her job at PWC for apparently refusing to wear high heels the lyrics have been a constant for me.

Why are we talking about heels at work in 2016?

The incident has reignited the long standing debate over gender stereotypes. Again the debate over what is and isn’t appropriate for men and women to wear at work is open. Ms Thorp’s experience has prompted a Petition to Parliament making it illegal for an employer to require women to wear high heels at work. Given the volume of signatures supporting the Petition, the issue will be debated in the UK Parliament.

Notably British Airways were in the news in February as its’ female air cabin crew won the battle to be allowed to wear trousers to work, rather than skirts. I comment having spoken with many contemporaries over the last few weeks, and as a women. The conventional, but discriminatory stereotype, is that in order to be taken seriously at work, women are required to appear for work, well turned out with coiffured hair and in their high heels. (Those of you who have met me know that as a mother of two young children and towering at just under 6 feet, I regularly rebel against that stereotype!)happy and sad

I haven’t seen the terms of PWC’s policy, or Portico’s, the agency used to employ, Ms Thorp but I do understand that it has been reviewed; presumably on account of the fact that on the face of it, it was discriminatory under the terms of the Equality Act 2010 and PWC could not show a justifiable business reason for this particular rule.

Is there a universal positive professional image?

Over the last few weeks, I have been asked by many employers about their dress code policy.

As an employer you are entitled to ensure that your employees promote a positive and professional image. However, what that means is extremely subjective. I regularly attend networking events where a range of professions are present. From that mix of people, it is clear that what counts as a ‘positive and professional image’ for one line of work will vary from person to person. For example, you wouldn’t expect a lawyer to turn up at a meeting in their gym gear, but similarly you wouldn’t expect your gym instructor to do a body pump class in a short skirt and high heels.

A common sense guide to dress code policy.

Factors your dress code should address include:

1. Relevant health and safety requirements
2. Respect for the cultural and religious traditions of ALL employees – i.e. both male and female.
3. Any adjustments that you need to make because of an employee’s disability.
4. The equality of requirements. Are you imposing the same requirements on your male employees as well as your female employees? If not, why not?
5. Is the employee client facing?

If you are concerned about any dress code or uniform issues that you have in your business or if you just want to share your views on what is and isn’t appropriate for employers to ask their employees to wear to work, then please contact me at jks@businesslaw.co.uk or on 01383 72162.

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