Understanding your rights: Dress codes and sex discrimination

The Government is calling for awareness to be raised about dress codes in the workplace by publishing new guidance, titled ‘Dress codes and sex discrimination – what you need to know’. 

Written with input from the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service, the Equality and Human Rights Commission, the Trades Union Congress, and the Women’s Business Council, the guidance offers information about setting a workplace dress code and understanding your responsibilities as an employer, as well your rights as an employee.

The new guidance came about following a Parliamentary petition led by Nicola Thorp in 2016 who was sent home from work for refusing to wear high heels. Ms Thorp’s petition led to a Parliamentary inquiry, which highlighted a wide range of dress code practices that might be unlawful under the Equality Act 2010 – for example, requirements to wear high heels; skirts above the knee; un-buttoned blouses; and repeatedly applied make-up.

Employer dress codes 

Charles M Ramsden, Deputy Director of the Government Equalities Office, said: "The law already prohibits unlawful sex discrimination, victimisation and harassment in the workplace, but many people may be unaware that they cannot lawfully be sacked or demoted for challenging a discriminatory dress code. 

"As a result of the inquiry, Parliament recommended – and the Government agreed – that awareness of these issues should be raised among older pupils and students, to ensure they are equipped to safeguard their rights in the world of work."

Download a copy of the guidance by visiting the Gov.uk website.

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