Equality Act there to protect employees from discrimination and harassment

The legislation covers discrimination and dress codes

Press Association
Last updated: 24 January 2018 - 7.30pm

The Presidents Club has shut down following controversy over a men-only fundraising dinner where the hostesses were allegedly told to wear black underwear and “sexy” black shoes for their shift.

So what are the rules around recruitment for such roles and workplace dress codes?

“The short answer is you can’t discriminate in recruitment except in really very limited circumstances that are spelled out in the statute,” said Elizabeth Prochaska, legal director with the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

Ms Prochaska, a barrister, said the Equality Act 2010 is in place to protect employees.

She said: “As a matter of general principle you can’t recruit from only one gender into a job, or indeed from only one race. You can’t discriminate against people on the basis of their protected characteristics so you can’t say we will only have men or women or gay people for a job, so that’s a matter of general principle under the Equality Act and there are certain very limited exceptions to that.”

Alex Kiernan, a solicitor and partner at Loch Employment Law, said any exceptions must be justifiable as a “genuine occupational requirement”, giving examples including a female changing room or toilet attendant.

“Those are the kind of situations where you could objectively say that you needed to have a female in there,” he said.

“Or if it was modelling or in an acting role  – if you want a male in the programme.”

“It’s a case of always looking at the facts and the particular circumstances but I think there are certainly situations where you would be able to genuinely say we need a female model for this female clothing, or a male model for this male clothing.”

Ms Prochaska said that while dress codes are allowed, there is a protection under section 26 of the Equality Act, which covers harassment.

She said: “Employers are permitted to have dress codes, but if that dress code was demeaning in some way or created an offensive or hostile working environment for the member of staff then under section 26 of the Equality Act you could end up creating a workplace that fell foul of the sexual harassment provisions in section 26.”

Kiran Daurka from the employment team at law firm Leigh Day said: “Employers have a duty of care toward those they employ, including not to expose them to potential harassment.”

A spokesman for the Artista agency, which recruited the hostesses, said: “I was not aware of any claims of sexual harassment but the kind of behaviour alleged is completely unacceptable.

“I am checking with the staff and any complaints will be dealt with promptly and fairly.”

Last year, a study into workplace dress codes found women workers have been told to dye their hair blonde, wear revealing outfits and constantly reapply make-up.

It came after an outcry when it emerged London receptionist Nicola Thorp had been sent home from work after refusing to wear high heels.

The Petitions Committee and Women and Equalities Committee said it became clear in the course of its inquiry that this was not an isolated incident.

At the time a Government spokesman said: “Dress codes must be reasonable and include equivalent requirements for both men and women.”

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