FEMALE workers have been told to bleach their hair, wear revealing outfits and constantly reapply makeup, a Commons inquiry on workplace dress codes has found.
More than 150,000 people signed a petition in support of London receptionist Nicola Thorp, who refused to wear high heels at finance company PricewaterhouseCoopers, prompting an inquiry and the parliamentary report published yesterday.
Ms Thorp had been told to wear shoes with a “2 to 4-inch heel” and complained male colleagues were not asked to do the same. She was sent home without pay.
The petitions committee and women & equalities committee said they found that this was not an isolated incident.
The report said: “We heard from hundreds of women who told us about the pain and long-term damage caused by wearing high heels for long periods in the workplace, as well as from women who had been required to dye their hair blond, to wear revealing outfits and to constantly reapply makeup.
“The government has said that the existing law is clear and that the dress code that prompted this petition is already unlawful. Nevertheless, discriminatory dress codes remain widespread.
“It is therefore clear that the existing law is not yet fully effective in protecting employees from discrimination. We call on the government to review this area of the law and to ask Parliament to change it.”
Feminist campaign group the Fawcett Society told the inquiry that requiring women to abide by “ridiculous” dress codes, often of a sexualised nature, suggested that their appearances were of more value than their skills.
It cited examples of women being asked when working in a casino to carry makeup to be used whenever using the bathroom. Other workers were criticised for wearing loose clothing on a hot day.
Petitions committee chair Helen Jones said: “The government must now accept that it has a responsibility to ensure that the law works in practice as well as in theory.”
It’s unacceptable that women are being told to wear painful, inappropriate shoes and uniforms, said TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady.
She added: “With employment tribunals costing up to £1,200, many women can’t afford to challenge sexist policies. If ministers are serious about enforcing equality legislation then they should scrap tribunal fees immediately.”
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