01/08/2018

What’s the dress code?

Back in 2016, a secretary at the global accountancy firm, PWC, was sent home from work after refusing to wear high heels in line with the company’s dress code.  It was a much publicised case.

Now, the Government Equalities Office have released their latest guidance on the issue of workplace dress codes entitled “Dress codes and sex discrimination – what you need to know.

The guidance is a direct response to requests made earlier this year by both the Women and Equalities and Petitions Select Committees and provides best practice recommendations for enforcing dress code policies.

Amongst the main takeaways from the guidance is that whilst dress code policies remain lawful, they should not be constructed in a way that disadvantages one employee over another. Additionally, whilst dress codes for male and female employees do not have to be identical, the standards imposed should be equivalent and any less favourable treatment on account of gender runs the risk of direct discrimination. To mitigate the risk organisations are urged to avoid gender specific requirements altogether explaining that requiring female staff to wear high heels, make-up or have manicured nails is likely to be unlawful, providing there is no equivalent requirement for men.

Employers are also encouraged to consider if there is a valid business reason for enforcing a specific dress code and if this is truly required to achieve a legitimate business aim. For example, employers in formal settings who wish for their staff to dress smart can reasonably achieve this aim without requiring female employees to wear high heeled shoes.

In other notable points, the guidance recommends that dress codes should:

  • Not be a source of harassment at the hands of colleagues of customers
  • Take into account relevant health & safety requirements
  • Allow for reasonable adjustments under the Equality Act 2010
  • Allow transgender staff to dress in line with their gender identity
  • Allow flexibility around religious symbols and jewellery

Whilst this guidance does little to alter the laws surrounding dress codes, organisations would be wise to consider its recommendations that many commonly enforced requirements either ‘could’ or ‘may’ be considered unlawful should a case ever be taken to an employment tribunal.  Moreover, this guidance adds further weight to the governments ongoing efforts to address workplace inequality which includes gender pay gap reporting and the promotion of shared parental leave.

Please get in touch if you’d like to discuss issues around dress code or talk about any challenges you are facing. We’d be delighted to help you.

23/10/2018

How to transition well in the workplace?

In 2005, I was working for a government organisation promoting and supporting small and medium-sized businesses in the capital.  I was approached by a staff member telling me that he wanted to live as a woman.    This was well before the Equality Act 2010 and the protected characteristic of gender re-assignment had been introduced.

At that time, we had had no training for staff to help them handle these situations so I had to work with the Gender Trust in the UK to make sure we had a good approach.  I worked with the individual’s line manager to make sure that we sequenced the communication with clients, management and staff as well as in the individual’s family, so that the transition went as well as possible.   I am no longer in touch with the individual concerned so don’t know what the experience is like now.

Even almost 10 years on, many transgender people find they are the subject of discrimination.  Examples such as organisations not having gender neutral facilities, insisting on rigid and gendered dress codes, and colleagues side-lining or ignoring them, means there is still prejudice in the workplace.

Just recently on the trip to San Francisco I met with Dana Pizzuti, a Senior Vice President in a biotech sector company in South San Francisco.  Her experience of transitioning in the workplace has led her to write a book.

Originally Dana set out to write a memoir but she soon realised that she needed to write a guide, the one that she didn’t have when she was transitioning.  The book—Transitioning in the Workplace: A Guidebook—offers transgender people and their employers everything they need to know to ensure a successful transition in the workplace.

By the way in a previous article about dress code see previous article on “What’s the dress code?”, I mentioned the UK Government’s recent guidance which recommends that employers should allow transgender staff to dress in line with their gender identity.

The imperative is not just about being an inclusive employer and making the most of your best talent.  Ignoring good inclusion practice means you could end up having to make a pay out, as Primark found to its cost.  An employment tribunal asked them to make a £47,000 award to an individual who was told she had a ‘man’s voice’.

Please get in touch if you’d like to discuss any challenges around transitioning in the workplace or about dress code for transgender employees. We’d be pleased to help you.