Lipstick and High Heels

I’ve been dealing with a number of clients recently who are in the hospitality trade and the conversation of uniform and personal presentation has come up. Whilst I’ve not been advising on any discriminatory, it’s always in the back of my mind that this could crop up.

There’s been so much in the media lately on sexist and discriminatory dress codes I thought it would be useful to put something together on dress codes and uniforms.

So firstly, it isn’t discriminatory to prescribe how your employees should look when they are working for you and representing your business, for example in most professional services firms it would be normal to expect a suit to be worn at all times.

Where many companies go wrong is the detail that’s involved in these descriptions. You must be able to genuinely qualify why it’s relevant for that particular detail to be included in your policy, for example the requirement for females to wear high heels or a skirt when this can’t be linked to their ability to do the job and obviously wouldn’t be asked of a male counter-part. The latter part is the crux of all of this:

Don’t put a criteria on one gender that you would not put on another.

We see many roles though that really seem to go against this, for example nearly all female cabin crew that I have seen wear skirts and a small heel. My research shows that unions will act at the first complaint but the companies reach agreement with the staff on their requirements through lengthy consultation with their staff. Etihad Airways said their new skirt-only female uniforms had been “enthusiastically well received by our crew and guests”.*

On the issue of heels, it’s also worth bearing in mind that continuous wearing of high heels can cause back and knee problems as well as exacerbating existing issues such as arthritis, which is only likely to lead to one thing; absence from work.

I often hear people saying that they can’t be asked to remove piercings and cover tattoo’s because it breaches their right to Freedom of Expression under the Human Rights Act. However, it is perfectly reasonable for an employer to require this to be done it falls within their dress code as long as it is applied to both genders equally. For example, asking men to remove piercings in ears, but not women could be discriminatory.

Some would ask whether dress codes should be banned completely in this era but I would strongly recommend always having some form of dress code that allows you to control the personal presentation of the people who represent your business as relaxed dress codes can be just as troublesome, especially where staff are client facing.

If you say ‘we don’t have a dress code’ you can end up with big problems if you have people turning up to work wearing t-shirts with offensive slogans, or they are just terribly scruffy. So, it’s always better to have a dress code, even if you aren’t very prescriptive on what you want your staff to wear.

In the dress code it’s worth considering all areas of personal presentation. Think about mentioning impeccable personal hygiene, especially where food might be involved, no-one wants to be served food by someone who smells less than fresh. On the flip side of that though, you also might not want heavily scented perfume or cologne. How much jewellery do you want your staff to wear, you may not want false nails or any nail polish – again this is especially important in food environments.

If staff members ignore your reasonable dress code, it is perfectly reasonable to send them home without pay to rectify the issue and return to work later in the day.

For now we’ll wait to see how this one turns out, but if you have specific requirements in your dress code and need some advice, get in touch with us for practical assistance.

If you are an employer and need ongoing assistance with staff and employment matters, talk to Cheryl at PeakHR. We offer competitive rates and cater specifically for small employers.

Please note our blog posts contain general information and are intended as guidance only and should not be taken as an authoritative or current interpretation of the law. Please ensure that you obtain advice tailored to your individual situation before taking action. These posts apply to the UK only.


#dresscode #smallbusiness #discrimination #sexdiscrimination #highheels #etihadairways #uniform

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