The recent news item where a temp worker placed through an agency with PwC was sent home for refusing to wear heels should cause all employers to review their dress code policies. Although not an employee of PwC the ensuing media attention would not have been comfortable for any organisation. Interestingly (and although stated to be unrelated) PwC Australia have decided to relax their workplace dress code and allow staff members to make their own judgement on what is appropriate in the workplace.
It does raise an interesting question for all employers. Are there directions in your own workplace dress code that could be discriminatory towards either men and women or other groups in your workplace?Certainly a requirement that women could only wear heels has been considered by a House of Commons inquiry to be discriminatory towards women unless male workers are also similarly directed. What an interesting office environment that would make! The recent House of Commons Inquiry followed a petition of almost 150,000 people in the UK seeking that employers be banned from requiring employees to wear heels in the workplace. However it is unlikely that UK employment law will require change as gender discrimination is already prohibited under UK equality law.
The position is the same in Ireland. Under the Employment Equality Acts 1998-2015, an employer cannot have provisions or practices which are either directly or indirectly discriminatory on any of the 9 protected grounds. These grounds include gender and religion which are the most common grounds for disputes on dress codes to arise. Employers must ensure that dress codes do not treat people less favourably in respect of any of the 9 grounds. Dress codes should be proportionate and consistent. If a particular direction is required that might impact one group more than another then there must be a clear objective justification for the direction and it must be applied consistently. This could include, for example, a health and safety issue regarding jewelry in a manufacturing environment.
So what should employers do? Review your dress code to make sure it is still appropriate and has moved with the time. Make sure it doesn't include anything that could be construed as discriminatory. If there are certain health and safety concerns that required a specific dress code then make sure the dress code clearly explains the reasons why and consider if a compromise position is possible. My advice? Don't be overly prescriptive about what other people wear!
Staff were not allowed to wear cardigans because they were "a bit frumpy and not very attractive". She said she was expected to wear heels on the way to work and to her hotel after disembarking, and was only allowed to change into flat shoes once on board the aircraft. "A couple of times I was told that I had to reapply my lipstick and I wasn’t wearing enough make-up. The particular one I got told off for a lot was that my hair was too frizzy. I do not understand how that affects the service you give on an aeroplane, but it is all part of an image. I have worked in retail before, notably at Harrods. Girls would be in tears because their feet were bleeding. "