The show covers topical aspects of employment law, which are aimed at helping business owners and employees with aspects of employment law which may affect them.
The following excerpt is from Jay and Jamie’s discussion on Sexist Dress Codes in her first guest slot from earlier in the year.
The discussion followed on from the news of the calls from MPs to fine firms for enforcing gender specific dress codes, such as those concerning makeup and high heels.
The BBC reported that the Parliamentary Committee for Women and Equalities had heard evidence from women who had been demanded by their employers to “wear shorter skirts and unbutton blouses” to appeal to male customers.
The findings from the committee have lead to calls for changes in the law, stricter enforcement and easier access to legal assistance for women facing these situations.
The Parliamentary Committee for Women and Equalities have spoke regarding a recommendation regarding a new framework needed to prevent women from being forced into adopting more stringent standards of dress than male colleagues in the work place.
The report came out and alongside that there was coverage of what some might say are ridiculous dress standards that were being applied to women in the workplace, but not to men; heels between a certain number of inches, requirement to wear makeup and more, what’s your take?
Well, working in the profession I work in it is pretty common place that there are requirements for women to dress in a certain way, to wear makeup and to look smart.
But there is a difference between being made to look smart and an employer having a dress code, which is perfectly acceptable. We work with all our clients when we build their policies and their sort of operating procedures.
We always ask whether there is a dress code and there are certain things that you can legitimately build into that but where you’re requiring somebody to look or dress in a certain way that is gender specific then that is discriminatory.
Of course, men might say that often we’re asked to wear a shirt and tie where women aren’t at events quite often. That as well would be gender specific and therefore discriminatory.
I remember about 25 years ago when I started as a trainee solicitor in those days as a woman you weren’t allowed to go to court wearing trousers and that actually changed during my career as a young lawyer.
I remember the excitement of being able to actually wear trousers and now you look back and you think “well how was that possible?”
I can remember in the early 90’s as well working in a PLC in London and the dress code was “You must always look professional”.
The interpretation of the dress code by the managers was that women working in that company were not allowed to wear trousers. And yes we look back and this is astonishing really.
It’s surprising really that there’s still so much of it around.
I don’t personally think that there needs to be a change in the law because the law already protects men and women who are made to dress or look a particular way depending on their gender.
But I’ve seen very clear cases of discrimination, gender and race discrimination where people haven’t been able to pursue the case because of the tribunal fees.
Although now the government is saying that there is an imminent review of the fees that’s actually seriously going to be looked at.
In the past although there have been a lot of calls for a review of the fees, I don’t think that that has been taken very seriously and I hope that they will now be reviewing them.
So with regards to dress code discrimination, if a dress code is cause for people to be smartly dressed or appropriately dressed then that’s one thing, but if a dress code is gender specific then that is clearly discriminatory.
You mentioned that there is not necessarily a need to change the law but a need to challenge, and there is an issue here of interpretation where a manager or a business says “well our dress code is about professionalism” and for that you are expected to do x, y and z and go beyond what is even legal.
I think it’s about creating a workplace culture where there’s a respect for people regardless of their gender but also a clear understanding of what is expected of people in terms of what is smart.
In one workplace that will be very different to another.
It’s a bit similar to the cases we’ve seen recently on whether it’s acceptable to have tattoos in the workplace.
Now tattoos are not gender specific so it’s perfectly OK to pay for an employer to insist that an employee doesn’t have tattoos, or not to take on an employee because they’ve got tattoos.
But where it comes to gender specific things, then that can be challenged and be discriminatory. It’s just about being clear on what the rules are, explaining why they are there and making sure that they are not related to gender.
Following this discussion, the petition “Make it Illegal for a Company to Require Women to Wear High Heels at Work” was debated in Parliament.
The petition attracted over 150,000 signatures, which was significantly higher than the 100,000 signature threshold required for an issue to be debated in Parliament.
Prior to the debate, further evidence was gathered as part of the inquiry process.
In one case, MP’s heard how a woman had been instructed to “dye her hair blonde”.
Following the debate, the Government released an official response:
“Company dress codes must be reasonable and must make equivalent requirements for men and women. This is the law and employers must abide by it.”
MP Helen Jones made the following statement during the debate:
“[The inquiry] has exposed widespread discrimination against women, stereotypical views of what women should look like and dress like and behave like.
It’s shown up out-dated attitudes towards women in the workplace, and it has shown that constantly women are belittled when they try to challenge those attitudes.”
You can find out more about the petition and debate on the Parliament website and through the BBC’s coverage.
To listen back to the full interview on Jamie’s site, where Jay also discusses other related employment law issues. You can listen to Jay on the Business live show on every last Friday of the month on Sheffield Live radio.