Heatwave prompts clothing discrimination fears

Jul 18 2006 by Nic Paton Print This Article

As Britain bakes in near-record temperatures, employers are being warned that allowing female workers to wear spaghetti-straps and flip-flops around the office, while keeping men buttoned up in suits, could potentially leave them open to sex discrimination claims.

A study by consultancy Croner has found that employers are failing to enforce "gender neutral" dress code policies.

What it calls "sartorial discrimination" is a widespread problem this summer, with more than half of employees polled for Croner believing women "get away" with more casual clothing than men to keep cool.

This compared with a mere three per cent who thought men were given more leeway to dress down when the weather heated up.

With such a high proportion of employees surveyed recognising a gender divide when it came to dress code leniency, employers needed to prepare for potential complaints, or even claims of sex discrimination, from disgruntled male workers for not implementing an equal dress code policy, Croner warned.

Just a quarter of those surveyed thought both men and women flouted dress code rules equally in the summer, while less than one in 10 (eight per cent) thought the weather made no difference to office attire.

The problem was not just confined to the summer months either, with four out of 10 agreeing that women stray the most from "smart" dress code all year round Ė compared with only one in 20 thinking the same of men.

While nearly a similar number of women (half) to men (60 per cent) acknowledged that more females flouted dress code rules in the summer, far fewer women (33 per cent), compared with half of men, agreed it was a year-round issue.

Richard Smith, employment services director at Croner, said: "While it can seem relatively harmless to some people, an unequal dress code policy can have serious implications on business, affecting employee morale, increasing tension and potentially leading to complaints of discrimination.

"If employers are going to allow women to wear summer spaghetti-strap tops and flip flops, they must make equal allowances for men to relax the rules," he added.

"What this means in practice is that employers must have a clear dress code policy that is enforced equally for both men and women," Smith continued.

"If dress code rules are relaxed in the summer, employers should state what is acceptable attire taking care to ensure equal provisions for men and women. They should also make it clear that failure to adhere to the code could lead to disciplinary action," he concluded.