It’s not clear whether high heels case impacted dress code restrictions

  1. High heels case and dress code standards
    Employment Law Clinic

    Employment Law Clinic UKBF Big Shot Full Member - Verified Business

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    The law isn’t working and employers need to be fined if their staff have to wear appropriate attire for work; that seems to be the conclusion of the recent House of Commons Petitions Committee and Women and Equalities Committee.

    The report came about because Nicola Thorp was sent home from work in December 2015 for not wearing high heels. A parliamentary petition followed, attracting the requisite volume of signatories to warrant attention by the Commons’ Petitions Committee, and the conclusion of our lawmakers on the committees was akin to that held by many: the law is an ass, it doesn’t work. They suggested that if an employer has a discriminatory dress code it should be fined.

    Arguably, the biggest problem with the findings of this report is that it couldn’t unequivocally say the employer breached any laws because the law was never asked to adjudicate the matter. It, therefore, seems strange to say remedies need to be “more effective” when the remedies currently available were never pursued in the first place.

    Should the law take a stand? The whole issue of high heels is sensitive. But is it wrong to expect employees to comply with a certain dress code?

    There’s nothing unlawful to having a dress code and the legislation that would need to be considered is health and safety (does wearing high heels for long durations harm the well-being of the user?), and the equality and discrimination laws (is the policy singling out female staff?).

    While entirely relevant to a company policy, health and safety is a curious one to put too much weight on in this debate. If wearing high heels for long durations of the day, should a responsible employer (or employees as health and safety legislation places responsibilities on them to alleviate risks) have a policy restricting certain footwear at the workplace or should staff be expected not to wear such shoes for long durations? Or where is the line drawn?

    More curious was the findings of the committee when it came to the 2010 Equality Act. The committees found that the Act relies on test cases to build up a body of case law and that far fewer cases are being brought since the introduction of fees to bring an employment tribunal claim. It suggests that the Government, along with the Equality and Human Rights Commission, play an increased role for test cases in the future.

    The committees don’t seem to have recognised that the Equality Act was principally a consolidating act, bringing together all the previous discrimination laws under one heading – with a general acceptance (expectation) in legal circles that the previous case laws will continue to apply.

    Discrimination cases have no limit on the damages that can be applied for injury to feelings. Vento is a piece of case law that effectively fills in the blanks that Parliament left and gives a guide on what these damages might typically be expected to be; it’s not binding on any individual case, although a tribunal would need to have a good reason to stray from the recommendations.

    In this respect, it seems clear that the law is already there and it just needs to be enforced. Nonetheless, the committees went on to suggest clearer guidance is provided to employers. For all the publicity the matter attracted when it first happened, Nicola Thorp never tested the law and never brought a tribunal claim.

    What purpose is there to complaining about the lack of a law if someone doesn’t first confirm the current legislation doesn’t already cover what is being sought? The evidence the committees heard was that the policy being complained about may well have been unlawful and discriminatory –the law being petitioned for already exists. But we don’t know for sure, because the appropriate and capable adjudicator of such matters, an employment tribunal, was never asked to determine the matter.

  2. Chris Ashdown

    Chris Ashdown UKBF Legend Free Member

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    Male MP's must wear suits in the chamber whilst ladies have the ability to wear suites or dresses etc
    Posted: Jan 31, 2017 By: Chris Ashdown Member since: Dec 7, 2003

    JEREMY HAWKE UKBF Legend Full Member

    3,637 1,162
    As a dad of three grown up daughters I have closely observed these issues over the years
    I myself have never worn these high heels (honestly what do have to prove it :))

    I am going to point out my observations here and some people wont like it
    The only people that really like to see these rules enforced and the people that like to enforce these rules are Men over their late 40s nobody else !. The senior ladies of the business are not ones deciding to enforce it They enforce it because that was what they have been told to do .
    Where it is their choice to make the rules they are usually older and have become a victim of old culture over the years .Yes they are equally the victim
    So if you are one of these guys and you are reading this and you have the power the rest of us view you as a greasy old man and your average modern person would not want to spend too much time with you .
    Its now 2017 there is no place for this type of thing I don't even like wearing my brogues I prefer my Clarks boots all the time so I feel for those that are force to wear such footwear by greasy old men .
    Last edited: Feb 2, 2017
    Posted: Feb 2, 2017 By: JEREMY HAWKE Member since: Mar 4, 2008
    Kat Haylock likes this.
  4. Employment Law Clinic

    Employment Law Clinic UKBF Big Shot Full Member - Verified Business

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    Only taken another three months after I reached the same conclusion, but the government have now responded to the report, with the glaringly-obvious observation:

    "6. It should also be made clear at the outset that scope for redress already exists"
    So if Nicola Thorp, or any other signatory to the petition, instead considered that there is recourse to complain, and that's where Nicola's efforts had been targeted, she may have had a resolution by now.
    Posted: Apr 22, 2017 By: Employment Law Clinic Member since: Aug 10, 2009