The government has undertaken to produce new guidance on workplace dress codes this summer following a joint report published by the Petitions and Women and Equalities Committees (the Committees). The report called for urgent action to improve the effectiveness of the Equality Act 2010 (the Equality Act) in preventing discriminatory practices of dress at work.
The issue attracted the public's attention last year when Nicola Thorp brought a petition to Parliament with more than 152,000 signatures supporting a change in the law on dress codes. Nicola was sent home from work for refusing to wear high heels on her first day as a temporary receptionist.
In response to the joint report, the government rejected calls to ban employers from forcing women to wear high heels. It stated that, while the Committees had uncovered practices which appeared sexist, unacceptable and potentially unlawful, a redress scheme already existed under the Equality Act. The government also rejected calls to increase fines for employers who have sexist dress codes, arguing the current fines of up to £30,000 for the most serious discrimination were "proportionate and fit for purpose". A proposal to allow tribunals to issue injunctions banning sexist dress codes was also rejected.
For now, we await the government guidance on dress codes. Meanwhile, employers are encouraged to review whether their dress codes comply with the Equality Act.
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