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Government issues new guidance on workplace dress codes


You may remember that in 2015 Nicola Thorp was sent home from work for turning up in flat shoes rather than the 2-4” heels that her employers specified she wear in the workplace. Her case was well reported and resulted in Ms Thorp starting a government petition to legislate against employers imposing a high heel requirement of women at work, claiming that formal dress codes are out-dated and sexist.

As the petition gained more than 150,000 signatures it was debated in the House of Commons on 6th March 2017. The Government refused to implement new legislation on account of the Equality Act 2010 which was said to already make sufficient provision to protect women against discrimination at work.  

As a compromise the Government have now issued new guidance on the subject of dress codes in the workplace which you can read here.

The guidance confirms that dress codes can be a legitimate part of an employer’s terms and conditions of employment but suggests that whilst it is not necessary to have the same code for men and women, the standards imposed should be equivalent and it is best to avoid gender specific prescriptive requirements, such as high heels to be worn by women.

The guide also suggests that a gender specific requirement such as wearing make-up, skirts, manicured nails, certain hairstyles and hosiery is likely to be unlawful. It further summarises the state of place in UK case law which is to say that an employer ought not to restrict the wearing of religious symbols that do not interfere with an employee’s work.

Whilst the legal position remains the same the Government guidance may well be a useful reference for employers. It includes some examples of codes that may not be lawful, a list of frequently asked questions and some further sources of information. Opsium’s dedicated team of specialist employment law advisers are able to offer support on drafting or simply revisiting your employee dress codes to ensure that you are not at risk of discrimination claims.


Posted by: Rachel Harkin
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GDPR Checklist


The EU wide General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) became the law in the UK on 25 May 2018. This has an impact upon any employer in the UK that processes personal data. ‘Personal data’ is any information that enables an individual to be identified. ‘Processing’ includes everyday use of that data to manage employees such as keeping their contact details and using their information to pay their wages.

If you have not already considered how GDPR impacts upon your business, how you handle the personal data of your employees or want to quickly check you have covered the main requirements, we’ve prepared a brief summary of what you need to have considered to ensure you are compliant.

Although we are solely advising in respect to HR, we would emphasise that all businesses need to consider how they handle the personal data of customers and review their marketing activity generally under GDPR. Please note that this falls outside the scope of the above checklist.

Posted by: Grahame Davies
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Definition of Cancer


The Equality Act 2010 ensures employers make reasonable adjustments for employees with a disability and protects them from suffering detriment due to their condition. Cancer is included expressly as a disability but what exactly does this include?

In the case of Lofty v Hamis the Employment Appeal Tribunal confirmed that the ‘pre-cancerous’ skin condition Lentigo Maligna did amount to cancer within the definition of the Act and therefore awarded protection from detriment.

This condition is understood to have the existence of cancer cells sat in the surface of the skin, but isn’t typically deemed cancer as the cells cannot spread to other parts of the body. The EAT have assessed the specific terminology by the Equality Act and have found that cancer was not specifically defined and so it was possible to consider the claimant’s condition to fall within the definition.

This case serves as warning to employers to consider the full facts of an employee’s condition before concluding hastily whether they have a disability or not. There are many pre-cancerous conditions that could result in employees needing treatment, time away from work, adjustments in the workplace and recovery periods; it may not always be obvious whether the condition results in the benefits offered by legislation.

Initial preventative or investigatory medical appointments are not generally considered to be included in the protections of the Act as there is no diagnosis. Appointments for prostate checks, smear tests and breast examinations are examples of appointments that may be necessary to prevent and/or detect cancer cells, however they generally pre-date a diagnosis. Where the employer will have to be more cautious is when there is a discovery of a condition that could result in cancer in the long term; in these cases it is advisable to make allowances for the employee.

Our consultants are ready to advise you on a range of employee management options in light of medical conditions which require reasonable adjustments in the workplace or may result in higher frequency sickness absence.

It is sensible to ensure you have a sound absence/ill health management policy in place and always ensure that an employee feels welcome to share sensitive information with you. The more comfortable your employees feel with you the more trust and confidence you will generate and the better your business can function whilst honouring your responsibilities to employees.

Posted by: Rachel Harkin
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April 2018 changes in employer rates, limits and payments


April brings a raft of changes in the HR arena and although we've previously detailed 2017 and 2018 rates for the National Living Wage and National Minimum Wage, below we have information on the other increases you should be aware of:

Item  2017  2018 
Statutory maternity pay £140.98 £145.18
Statutory paternity pay £140.98 £145.18
Statutory sick pay (standard rate) £89.33 £92.05
Redundancy - cap on a week's pay  £489 £508
Guarantee Pay (per day) £27   £28  
Tribunal award - max. basic award £14,670 £15,240
Tribunal award - max. compensatory award £80,541 £83,682


If you have any queries about any of the above changes and how it will affect your business, please get in touch.

Posted by: Rachel Harkin
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Gender Equality: 2017 recap


2017 was a pivotal year for gender equality within the UK workplace. There have been positive changes, but there are still areas that have been highlighted as ‘requires improvement’.

This article aims to recap progress made in gender equality during 2017, and encourage small businesses to empower everyone within the workplace, be they male, female or gender fluid to promote gender equality.

Update in the Law

In April 2017 the UK Government made it a legal obligation for large companies (with 250 employees or more) to report pay differences between male and female employees. The legislation dictates that the organisation must publish their median gender pay gap figures and their mean gender pay gap figures, including data on bonuses.

ACAS list the areas an employer has to report as:

  • Average gender pay gap as a mean average
  • Average gender pay gap as a median average
  • Average bonus gender pay gap as a mean average
  • Average bonus gender pay gap as a median average
  • Proportion of males receiving a bonus payment and proportion of females receiving a bonus payment
  • Proportion of males and females when divided into four groups ordered from lowest to highest pay

This legislation saw the BBC being very publicly criticised for the pay differences between their male and female presenters doing the same jobs.


Following the heavily reported Weinstein scandal, many women have come forward to share their experiences of sexual harassment. According to the Everyday Sexism Project’s study of 1500 women, over 50% of women have experienced sexual harassment at work. 

Employers are responsible for the health and safety of all employees while at work and are responsible to ensure employees are protected from harassment. Through no fault of their own employers can end up being liable for rogue employee actions. Having a dedicated policy to deal with sexual harassment can help protect employees and employers alike. If you’d like further information on how to create a Sexual Harassment Policy, you can read a previous article here.

Gender Fluidity

2017 saw more attention being given to gender fluidity. While there have been no updates in the law since the Equality Act 2010, there has been a lot of press attention around gender, including John Lewis creating own-brand gender neutral childrenswear.  

Under the Equality Act 2010 an employee cannot be discriminated against because of their gender, or an employee’s right for that gender to be fluid.

Don’t Forget the Men!

While a lot of press speculation has been on unequal treatment of women, it is important to remember that equality is about all members of staff being treated equally. Employers must be careful to not disadvantage male colleagues as they strive for equality.


It has been illegal to discriminate against women since the 1970s, and the updated Equality Act 2010 goes further to protect all genders.

While there has been a decrease in women being paid less for doing the same job as a man, the new data highlights that there are fewer women in positions of authority and that men overall still earn more than women.

Offering increased flexible working to help women juggle childcare and work commitments may enable them to progress within the workplace to help them achieve those higher paid positions.

If you have any concerns about gender equality within the workplace, contact us for advice.

Posted by: Opsium Marketing
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