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Chris Phillips
Chris Phillips is a partner at Loch Employment Law

7 August 2017 | Chris Phillips 

In June 2017 a woman claimed she was sacked from her bar job in Hull after refusing to wear a bra. The bar denied the allegations, saying no one had been dismissed, but the woman said she had been let go after inappropriate sexual remarks were made.

In January 2015 Nicola Thorp was dismissed from her London office job for refusing to wear high heels. She began a petition calling for reform of workplace dress codes. Six months and 150,000 signatures later, the government said: “Company dress codes must be reasonable and must make equivalent requirements for men and women.” 

This lacklustre response prompted the Commons’ Petitions Committee to investigate. Its report, produced with the Women and Equalities Committee, revealed that women still face discrimination, direct and indirect, at work. Its main aim was to determine whether it should be lawful for employers to require female workers to adhere to stereotypical standards of appearance. 

The Equality Act 2010 regulates such issues of discrimination in the UK. Although it aims to eliminate discrimination, indirect discrimination for example, where a particular workplace practice is imposed, can be justified if it is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim. 

But many female workers are still pressed to wear high heels and certain types of clothing, calling into question the act’s effectiveness. 

ACAS has also produced guidance on appearance at work. While it may not have strict legal status, it is seen as a benchmark of best practice. 

British Columbia in Canada has passed a Workers’ Compensation Act that stops employers setting gender-based footwear requirements.

The UK still has some way to go before it can show a truly acceptable face of good practice in the workplace.

Chris Phillips is a partner at Loch Employment Law

This was co-authored by Meghan Vaillancourt, a graduate of Queen’s University, Canada, and was originally published on internationalworkplace.com