Comments about appearance? Likely to be sex discrimination!

A recent employment tribunal ruling considered that telling a female employee to wear make-up is considered sexual harassment.

The employee raised a tribunal claim after her manager demanded that she wear make-up as she looked tired and unpresentable, which made her feel “undermined”. The tribunal also heard that the employee was told her voice was too “bland or boring” and that she should try to “liven it up”.

The tribunal judge stated that comments relating to make-up were not likely to be directed at a male employee, and in telling the female employee how she should improve how she looked created a humiliating environment.

The judge concluded that saying that the employee looked “tired and unpresentable” was not related to sex, as that could equally be said to a man. However, asking the employee to wear some make-up is a comment that would not ordinarily be made to a man and therefore in this case, was direct sex discrimination. 

Compensation is set to be decided at a later date.

This case highlights the fact that even in a professional environment there is a different standard for women, in terms of physical appearance, than there is for men. Most employers recognise that they can’t tell their employees how they should look. However, when workers are judged on their appearance, this criticism is more often geared to female employees over male, making it a gender issue.

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