Women are feeling under pressure from their employers to wear heels, provocative tops, tights skirts and apply more makeup to look sexy at work.  

2,000 women were questioned as part of a study commissioned by the law firm Slater and Gordon. For this day and age, the results are perhaps surprising.

Survey’s findings

The survey found that 86% of female employees questioned felt under pressure to appear sexier at work. These women feared that there may be some detrimental effect if they did not comply with their employer’s wishes. 19% of women felt that more attention was placed on their appearance by their employers than on their male counterparts. 7% of the women were told by their managers that they should wear high heels in the office or with clients to make them more “appealing”.

The situation is very different for male employees. 48% of men felt that their dress code was more defined and easier to follow, and there was a less chance that their appearance would be subject to comment.

The survey shows that this type of pressure on female employees is commonly found in the IT & Telecoms, human resources, finance, healthcare, legal and professional service industries.

This research has come an interesting time. Nicola Thorp, the receptionist who was sent home for wearing flat shoes, has created a petition to change the law to ban companies from forcing women to wear high heels at work. Campaigners at the Trades Union Congress conference earlier this month also appealed for the law to be changed, arguing that it was sexist and outdated.

What does the law say?

The Equality Act 2010 prevents employers from discriminating over dress code in some circumstances. These include age, disability, gender reassignment, religion or belief, sex, or sexual orientation. Employers can set different requirements for men and women, but they cannot treat one gender less favourably. They may face claims of unlawful discrimination if they do.

Dress codes can be introduced because employers want customers to easily identify their staff, for health and safety reasons or to ensure that their employees fit the company’s corporate image. However, if an employer obliges female employees to wear high heels or apply makeup to look sexier in the workplace, an employee could bring a claim or raise a grievance against their employer. Please speak to your Employment Law Adviser if you need any clarification on this challenging issue.

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