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Calls for Greater Enforcement of Equality Legislation

A recent report by the UK Parliament’s Petitions Committee and Women and Equalities Committee has called for urgent action by Government following an inquiry into the effectiveness of the Equality Act 2010 in protecting workers from discrimination.

Calls for Action

The inquiry was triggered by a petition started by a female employee who was sent home from work for refusing to wear high heels.

According to the Government, this dress code was unlawful, but the inquiry has found evidence that requirements for women to wear high heels at work remain widespread.

The recommendations put forward in the report include:

  • That the Government review the Equality Act and, if necessary, ask Parliament to amend it.
  • More effective remedies—such as increased financial penalties—for employment tribunals to award against employers who breach the law, in order to provide an effective deterrent.
  • The introduction of guidance and awareness campaigns targeted at employers, workers and students, to improve understanding of the law and workers' rights.

Protecting Employees

"This inquiry reinforces the point that many employers do not see it as a priority to be aware of their legal obligations in this area and in practice individual employees are not in a position to take action to ensure their employers comply with the law,” commented Maria Miller MP, Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee. “Whilst the level of tribunal fees is one factor, the Equalities and Human Rights Commission also needs to find new ways to make the law bite.”

“Employers appear to risk non-compliance because the likelihood of any serious consequences is minimal,” she said. “The EHRC must find new ways to support anti-discrimination test cases and appeals, so that the burden does not fall too heavily on individual women—especially those who already feel their employment position is precarious."

“The Government must now accept that it has a responsibility to ensure that the law works in practice as well as in theory,” added Helen Jones MP, Chair of the Petitions Committee. “By accepting our recommendations, the Government could help employers and employees alike to avoid unlawful discrimination."

Responses to the Report

The Equality and Human Rights Commission has responded to the findings of the report.

“In a modern business, it’s simply wrong, and frankly antiquated, that any woman should be made to follow a dress code telling them how to look in a way that would never be asked of men,” said Chief Executive Rebecca Hilsenrath. “The height of my heels has no relevance to how good I am at my job. We are looking for test-cases, which will bring this issue to the national attention.”

The TUC has also commented on the publication of the report, highlighting the health problems that can result from wearing high heels, and saying that wearing them should be a choice, not a condition of the job.

It also called for the Government to scrap tribunal fees to help the enforcement of equality legislation.

Contains Parliamentary information licensed under the Open Parliament Licence v3.0.

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