High heels can cause pain in all kinds of ways. Photo: Shutterstock

Tuesday 24th May 2016

High alert

Beware discriminatory dress codes, says Donald MacKinnon
Donald MacKinnon

The image that employees present will generally reflect their company and its values. Lawyers and accountants will be expected to look professional, while digital start-ups in California may adopt a more informal look.

It’s perfectly acceptable for employers to manage the appearance of their staff. Recent cases have shown, however that common sense should be applied.

The recent furore when it was discovered that a female temp had been sent home from work for not wearing high heels, as mandated by a dress code, is a case in point. It goes without saying that any dress policy ought to be reasonable and consistently applied.

Ill-thought out dress rules can result in employers staring at damage to their reputation, as the company above found out, or even worse, in an employment tribunal.

In a case earlier this year, a tribunal found an employer guilty of sex discrimination for writing on the CV of one of its employees, “Red lipstick, heels, good; tattoos, do not approve; wearing a dress, excellent”.

On another occasion the comment was: “How are we supposed to hire her, did you see what she was wearing and the size of her? We can’t have her on the frontline.”

Unsurprisingly, the tribunal took a dim view of this and awarded the candidate £10,500.

It’s accepted that companies need to have a smart client-facing view. But employers would do well to remember not to pursue this goal at the expense of discriminating against employees.

About the author

Donald MacKinnon

Donald is the Director of Legal Services at Law at Work, a business support organisation which specialises in helping clients identify, manage, reduce, and eliminate risk in employment law, human resources, and health and safety. You can catch up with Donald and his team at the site below, and on Law at Work TV.