You may recall from the news in December 2015 that a female receptionist was sent home from work without pay because she turned up in flat shoes. She was alleged to have failed to comply with her agency’s dress code which required women to wear high heels. This sparked a flood of outrage nationwide; I certainly do not find high heels the most comfortable of shoes to wear!
An e-petition to government followed and the House of Commons Petitions as well as the Women and Equalities Committees subsequently published a report in early 2017, concluding that requiring women to wear high heels is damaging to their health and wellbeing and sexualised them at work. In May 2018 the Government Equalities Office published guidance on dress codes and sex discrimination for employers.
Unfortunately the guidance is very brief, lacks lustre and largely repeats existing law in this area, rather than focusing on positive guidance or action plans for employers. For instance, it reiterates that employees can contractually require employees to wear certain uniforms, however, in doing so they should not create less favourable treatment on grounds of gender. This is not new and remains difficult for employers to interpret; when will it be less favourable treatment on grounds of gender?
The clearest guidance to come from this is that any obligations regarding gender specific appearance such as wearing make-up, heels, manicured nails, skirts and hosiery is likely to be unlawful sex discrimination.