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What Have Employment Law and Trouser Trouble Got in Common? Read on......
I have always thought that I’m a Celebrity ...... Get Me Out of Here! is yet another televisual example of throwing Christians to the lions, except in this case, the lions would probably get galloping indigestion.
Listening to Chris Evans holding forth about Ant (or Dec’s) hair prior to I’m A Celebrity started me thinking about sex discrimination related to appearance and dress codes.*
Last week the Telegraph reported that there is still technically a ban in Paris forbidding the wearing trousers by women. Introduced in 1800 by Paris' police chief, the rule has been diluted and relaxed over the years; for example, trousers became permissible when the woman was “holding the reins of a horse”, or "on a bicycle or holding it by the handlebars".
When I deliver employment law training, the subject of dress codes often comes up in discussion and is a surprisingly emotive subject.
The Sex Discrimination Act (among others) has clear implications for dress codes and employers must take care not to include elements which could be discriminatory.
Discrimination is not 'different treatment' but 'less favourable treatment' and a comparison is not carried out on an item-by-item basis, but on an overall standard So for example, provided that both genders are required to dress to the same degree of formality then neither is treated less favourably.
This standard must be the same for each gender, but can be made up of different elements according to the conventions of that time and marketplace. However, employers should note that social conventions change over time.
In one case an employer whose a policy prescribed skirts for women was found not to be discriminatory. That case dates back to the 1970s and would probably be decided differently today. A safer option would be to offer a choice, providing it was still appropriately formal.
The same principles will apply where uniforms are worn. Let’s leave the last word on the Parisian anomaly to Evelyne Pisier, a law professor who points out that given that trousers are compulsory for Parisian policewoman, they are all breaking the law.
For advice on dress codes and other employment matters, *There are also potential issues with religious discrimination too – but that’s for another day.
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