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Legal Issue: A Working Dress Code Report

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Updated: Feb 11th, 2022

Summary of the claim

Jessica is an employee of Tasty and high heels are part of her uniform. The women do not want to wear them as they cause discomfort and pain in the foot. The work of the waiters requires constant movement and walking, which further exacerbates the situation. Besides, such a uniform makes her feel that women in cafes are valued and respected less than men by both managers and clients. However, Jessica is required to comply with the dress code, which states “female waitresses are required to wear heeled shoes at all times during working hours.”. For this reason, Jessica intends to bring a tribunal claim because of the uniform policy. This claim is supposedly a case of gender discrimination.

Background

Jessica has been working in Tasty as a waitress for two months already. Every waitress has to work at least 8 hours a shift during which she crosses the hall dozens of times from the kitchen to the customers’ table to bring them food. This work is tiring for legs, and also the Tasty policy forces all female waitresses to wear heels during the shift, which makes their legs even more tired. At the same time, only women have a piece of their uniform that brings their inconvenience and pain. Also, their dress code consists of a medium-length skirt, hats, and blouses.

Jessica complained to her manager Mr. Gate that it was difficult for her to work in heels all day, and this part of the uniform should not be mandatory for females. The manager, in turn, replied that heels are part of the dress code that complements the image of the waitresses and attracts customers. All employees must abide by the dress code, and if they do not wish to do so, they will be suspended or fired. Jessica also told the manager that low-running shoes are more comfortable for long shifts as that doesn’t harm people’s legs, and women also feel defiant when wearing high heels. However, the manager did not respond to the comment and told Jessica to return to work.

The main legal issue, in this case, is a working dress code, as well as methods and measures for its adjustment. In the 1979 case of Schmidt v, Austicks Bookshops Limited set a precedent for the employer having the right to require a dress code at work, and it should not be identical for men and women, since specific features can be different (Cave, 2016). In addition, the Equality Act of 2010 also permits a dress code that distinguishes corporate culture or is necessary for the safety of employees or customers. Also, a uniform can be different for men and women if it does not have elements that emphasize gender discrimination or treats one group more favored than another. The employee also can be dismissed for not following the dress code.

However, this legislation does not prohibit high heels, the obligatory wearing of skirts for women, or makeup. The 2018 Government Directive made several recommendations that say to avoid gender-specific elements, including makeup, skirts, manicures, or hairstyles (Government Equalities Office, 2018).

The Directive also notes, “A dress code could be unlawful, for example, if it requires female employees to wear high heels, with all the discomfort and inherent health issues these can cause, because it treats women less favored than men” (Government Equalities Office, 2018, 3). In addition, the Human Rights Act 1998, especially 9 and 10 of the article, also indirectly refers to the dress code as they support the freedom of thought, consciousness, and expression (Nath, Bach, and Lockwood, 2016, p. 14). Consequently, the primary legal issue is the relevance of the uniform policy and gender discrimination associated with it.

Factors Need to be Considered in the Case

The main factors that need to be considered for this case are the mandatory wearing of high heels for females, the discomfort that they cause, the presence of other elements of the uniform that sexualize the image, as well as the punishment for not following the dress code. High heels are part of an image that emphasizes the sexuality of a person’s body and can only be entirely appropriate in some specific institutions (Fenton, 2016).

In another case, the sexualization of a woman without her desire is uncomfortable and stressful. In addition, such an image is optional and even inappropriate for a food establishment; its primary goal is to satisfy the basic needs of customers for food and not performance. However, if Jessica’s uniform also contains elements such as a short skirt or a deep neckline, then the policy of Tasty can clearly be described as discriminatory. (Government Equalities Office, 2018)

At the same time, a high heel causes discomfort and pain to the legs, especially for the work of a waiter, which requires constant walking. Accordingly, this part of the uniform is harmful to women’s health(Wallace, 2017) A similar case was won by the Unit, which obtained the approval of British Airlines, for female employees to wear trousers as part of their uniforms (Topham, 2016). Their main argument was the fact that skirts did not protect them from the cold in the Nordic countries or malaria in a tropical climate (Topham, 2016). In addition, the requirement to wear high heels treats women less favorably than men. Therefore, you should check whether the described elements are in line with company policy to determine if there is gender discrimination.

Claims

Jessica claims that wearing heels as part of a uniform discriminates against her as a female and harms her health. Heels make her feel like she earns tips by her appearance but not the quality of the service. In addition, she constantly feels pain in her feet and toes because of heels, although men do not face such a problem. She appealed to the management with a request to cancel this requirement in uniform; however, she did not receive approval or even a clear answer to her questions. For these reasons, Jessica demands a change in the uniform policy in Tasty and £30000 compensation for moral damage.

Jessica’s manager Mr. Gate claims that uniforms for female waitresses, which include heels, are a common and standard practice for cafes. Male waiters, as well as other staff, are also required to wear a uniform, although it differs due to sanitary standards and gender differences. In addition, he assures that the other waitresses had not complained about their dress before, so the company did not consider it as a problem. For this reason, Mr. Gate states that reluctance to wear high heels is only Jessica’s desire and does not discriminate against all women. Consequently, Tasty sees no reason to change the uniform that has been used for years and pays compensation to Jessica.

Evaluation of The Decision

I did not have the opportunity to hear a court decision on this case, so I can only suggest it. I believe that Jessica won this case, and Tasty is obligated to change the uniform policy to remove heels from it. However, I think that Jessica could receive a maximum of £10000 of compensation since the legislation still has not official acts about the dress-code requirement. The UK still has not adopted a law prohibiting the obligatory wearing of heels as part of the dress code, despite statements about the tightening of the law on uniforms in the press (Syal, 2016; Owusu, 2018). Recent articles and news attest to this, for example, Baroness Hale’s statement that female lawyers should not be forced to wear heels at work (Wyatt, 2020). Consequently, many people, even in the sphere of jurisprudence, do not perceive the recommendations of the government as binding, which affects the decision-making.

However, several precedents could be cited in favor of Jessica, as well as existing laws. Firstly, Jessica claims that wearing heels is harmful to the health of her legs, as many doctors confirm (Wallace, 2017). This uniform also makes her feel uncomfortable and degrades her professional qualities. At the same time, men have a comfortable and modest form, which does not distinguish their gender differences.

Besides, manager Mr. Gate claims that he was not aware of discrimination, although evidence shows that Jessica asked him to change the dress code. Consequently, the Equality Act 2010 and the 2018 Government Guideline support non-wearing heels in this case. In addition, flat shoes for waitresses do not matter much for Tasty, as this is a catering establishment in which the main aspects are the quality of service and food.

The case of British Airline female workers is also a precedent in this case as women have obtained permission to wear trousers after confirming this need by harm for their health (Topham, 2016). Although these cases are different in scale, since the flight attendants filed a group lawsuit, while Jessica was the only one the cases considered the same issues.

Therefore, most likely, Jessica will receive part of the compensation, and Tasty will be forced to remove the heels as a mandatory part of the uniform. If Jessica had the support of her colleagues, they probably would have received more significant compensation. However, until a law that more clearly sets out the requirements for a work dress code is passed in the United Kingdom, people of any gender will be forced to assert their rights through the courts.

Reference List

Cave, A. (2016) ‘‘ Farrer & Co. Web.

(2010) c.15. Web.

Government Equalities Office. (2018) ‘.’ Web.

Nath, V., Bach, S. and Lockwood G. (2016). Research Paper. Dress codes and appearance at work: body supplements, body modification and aesthetic labour. London: Acas.

Owusu, N. (2018) ‘,’ TUC. Web.

Syal, R. (2017). ‘,’ The Guardian. Web.

Topham, G. (2016). ‘ The Guardian. Web.

Wallace, J. (2017) ‘ ,’ The Guardian. Web.

Wyatt, T. (2020). ‘,’ The Independent. Web.

Fenton, S. (2016) ‘,’ The Independent. Web.

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