In Brief

Fine firms for sexist dress codes, say MPs

Politicians say female employees are being told to dye their hair blonde and wear revealing clothes at work

Employers should face bigger financial penalties for forcing women to follow sexist dress codes in the workplace, MPs have said, after a parliamentary inquiry found female employees regularly face discrimination.

In a joint report from the petitions committee and the women and equalities committee, politicians said they had heard from women who had been told to dye their hair blonde, re-apply make-up and wear revealing clothing, The Guardian reports.

The inquiry was launched after Nicola Thorp, a temp worker with outsourcing agency Portico, revealed she was sent home without pay for wearing flat shoes and told to buy heels of between two and four inches. Thorp refused, saying the men in the company did not face similar requirements.

More than 152,000 people signed her petition calling for parliament to investigate the issue.

The MPs said they had received a flood of similar "troubling" examples which showed the Equalities Act 2010 was not having the desired effect.

Many female workers had come forward to tell them about the "pain and long-term damage caused by wearing high heels for long periods in the workplace", they said.

The women also detailed other requirements not meted out to their male colleagues, including being criticised for wearing loose clothing on a hot day and being told to carry a cosmetics kit in order to top up their make-up whenever they went to the bathroom, ITV News says.

The MPs' report, High Heels and Workplace Dress Codes, recommends that employers be reminded of their legal obligations.

"Its key recommendation is that the existing law should be enforced more vigorously, with employment tribunals being given the power to apply bigger financial penalties," reports the BBC.

Helen Jones, chairwoman of the Petitions Committee, said, "The government has said that the way that Nicola Thorp was treated by her employer is against the law but that didn't stop her being sent home from work without pay.

"The government must now accept that it has a responsibility to ensure that the law works in practice as well as in theory."

Thorp agreed. "The current system favours the employer and is failing employees," she said. "It is crucial that the law is amended so that gender neutral dress codes become the norm."

The findings contradict the conclusions of Theresa May five years ago, when, as women's minister, she said there was no problem with sexism over clothing at work and that "traditional gender-based" dress codes "encourage a sense of professionalism in the workplace".

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