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Is makeup genderless in the workplace?

View profile for Maria Chadwick
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Is makeup genderless in the workplace?

Makeup, much like fashion, is a tool which many people utilise to express their identity. However, unlike fashion, society has typically viewed makeup as exclusively for women. This poses the question of how men can wear makeup without the fear of judgement and what protection the law can afford them. 

This issue has been brought to the forefront of media attention due to a recent story which has gone viral on social media. The story concerns a young man who is reported to have been told to take off his makeup and to ‘tone it down’ whilst working at a leading high street retailer of electronic goods. The Facebook post detailing the treatment alleged has since received 23,000 likes and almost 4,000 shares which highlights the public support afforded to the employee at the time of writing. 

Additionally, in 2015, it was reported that a 15-year-old male shopper, wearing makeup, who was shopping with his girlfriend was instructed to leave a shopping centre by a security guard due to his appearance. The young shopper commented following the incident that he had been left scared to return to the shopping centre. 

It is understood that leading beauty brands Covergirl, L’Oreal and Maybelline have all included men in their recent beauty campaigns. UK vlogger, Jake-Jamie Ward, well known for his viral campaign #MakeupIsGenderless has been appointed as the first male spokesperson of L’Oreal. Jake has commented in an interview with Diary Directory that over half of his viewers on YouTube are male which emphasises a growing male consumer interest in cosmetic products. 

MMUK MAN, a company whose sales were approaching £1million in 2016, have recently launched their products on leading online e-tailer ASOS. This suggests an increased appetite for more male orientated products and a shift to a growing acceptance of men wearing makeup.

What does the law say?

Sex discrimination is legislated under the Equality Act 2010 which outlines that a person should not be treated unfavourably because of their sex. There are very specific limitation dates within which a claim of discrimination must be brought. In civil cases, for example where a person has been discriminated against as a customer in a shop, the time limit is six months less one day. In employment cases, where a person has been discriminated by their employer, the limitation date is three months less one day.    

Caselaw has established that employers’ dress codes should be non-discriminatory and should apply equally to men and women. However, that does not go to say that these standards need be identical. For example, in the aviation industry it is common practice as part of uniform standards for women to be required to wear makeup whereas men are forbidden from wearing any. The dress code remains lawful if it applies equally.

In the situation of men wearing makeup at work, to prove that they have been subjected to discrimination it is understood that as the law stands, they would have to highlight that being forbidden to wear makeup is an unfair burden. It is possible for employers to enforce different uniform requirements for men and women providing that the standard does not have a detrimental impact upon one sex more than another. 

If you feel that you have been discriminated against by your employer or by other service providers in your day to day life, our discrimination team can help. Please contact our specialist team on 0175 321 6399.

By Charlie Bradbury, employment and discrimination advisor

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