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Orders by employers to 'look easy on the eye for punters' - sex discrimination?

View profile for Maria Chadwick
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It has recently been reported that an 18-year-old waitress was asked by her manager to wear make-up, her hair down and dress in a skirt to be ‘easy on the eye for punters’ while serving at a Bistro in Ayrshire.

The story

It is understood that the waitress started to work at the Bistro in September 2015 and was told that the staff dress code would be a black shirt with either black trousers or a black skirt. A month later her manager asked her to make herself look more attractive to customers. It was suggested that she ensure that she wear a skirt and her hair down. The student refused and questioned the difference, pointing out the fact that if she was serving food, she should for the purposes of hygiene have her hair tied back. The following day she was told by her manager that she would no longer be given shifts under her zero-hour contract. Not long following this incident, it is understood that the Bistro hired a new member of staff to cover her shifts.

The law

The comments made by the manager amounted to sex discrimination under the terms of the Equality Act 2010. This Act is designed to protect individuals that are subject to such unwanted conduct as a result of one of the Act’s listed protected characteristics. Sex is a protected characteristic under section four of the Act, and as a result of this protected characteristic, the waitress suffered direct discrimination at the hands of her employer. This is because she was female, and it is likely that such comments would not have been made to male employees. The conduct of the employer clearly created an intimidating, humiliating and degrading environment for her, which further supports her claims.

The result

The individual was successful in her claims for direct discrimination and harassment, and was awarded £3500 in the employment tribunal. The tribunal judge said that she found the student’s evidence to be ‘entirely credible’, and that the conduct also amounted to harassment in a ‘degrading and humiliating’ work environment. However, the owner of the Bistro maintained that the ‘allegations are untrue’, and indicated that they intend to appeal the decision.

These types of claims are not limited to incidents in the workplace. The provisions of the Act can also be invoked against companies or organisations known as service providers, should they or an employee of theirs engaged in such conduct. If you or anyone else feel as though you have suffered discrimination as a result of your sex, please contact our team on 01616 966 229.

By Sarah Brown, student in the discrimination team