MPs are calling for employers to be fined firms for sex discrimination in dress codes.

The government must ban sexist dress rules at work that discriminate against women, a committee of MPs has recommended.

We have previously reported on some high-profile cases that led to this recommendation. Eg here, here and here.

The Women’s and Equalities committee began an inquiry following the case of Nicola Thorp, who was sent home from a receptionist’s job with PWC for not wearing high heels. She refused to obey the then rules of her employment agency, Portico, that she should wear shoes with heels that were between two and four inches high.

She argued that wearing them all day would be bad for her feet and that her male colleagues were not asked to follow similar rules. “This may have started over a pair of high heels, but what it has revealed about discrimination in the UK workplace is vital, as demonstrated by the hundreds of women who came forward via the committees’ online forum” Mrs Thorp said. She added: “The current system favours the employer, and is failing employees“.

The committee received reports of women being told to dye their hair blonde and wear revealing clothes at work, such as shorter skirts.

Her parliamentary petition on the issue gained more than 150,000 signatures.

The committee  said the Equality Act 2010 should ban discriminatory dress rules at work and that but in practice the law is not applied properly to protect workers of either sex. Chair of the Petitions Committee, Helen Jones MP, said: “It’s clear from the stories we’ve heard from members of the public that Nicola’s story is far from unique.” It said that discriminatory dress codes remain commonplace in some sectors of the economy.

What’s next?

The MPs report recommends a publicity campaign to ensure that employers know their legal obligations that workers know how they can complain effectively. But its key recommendation is that the existing law should be enforced more vigorously, with employment tribunals able to apply bigger financial penalties.

A government spokesperson said: “No employer should discriminate against workers on grounds of gender – it is unacceptable and is against the law. Dress codes must be reasonable and include equivalent requirements for both men and women.

By Naomi Vlad. Image used under CC courtesy of Veenya Venter