Employment Associate David Sheppard looks at the legal risks to employers with discriminatory dress codes facing reports that the government must enforce the law banning sexist dress rules in the workplace. 

The committees for Petitions and for Women and Equalities have found that the government should enforce the law against dress codes in the workplace that discriminate against women. This follows the high-profile petition by Nicola Thorp that gained over 150,000 signatures after she was sent home from work on her first day (without pay) after refusing to wear high heels.

The report revealed the widespread sexist dress requirements by employers, but in practice the law is not applied properly to protect male and female workers.

The key recommendation from the report was that the current law on discriminatory dress under the Equality Act 2010 should be enforced more vigorously. MPs want to give employment tribunals the ability to apply bigger financial penalties. If the report findings are introduced through parliament, employers guilty of being discriminatory towards women with regards to their dress rules, could be required to pay compensation to each individual employee effected by their discriminatory actions.

Employers are allowed currently allowed to have dress rules that differ between genders, however they must apply equivalent standards and to avoid discrimination they must be able to justify their reasons for these differences.