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Dress code discrimination


Commons’ committee call for review following damning evidence of sexist dress code instructions placed on women.

A recent parliamentary report has highlighted that women are still being forced to wear high heels, makeup or revealing outfits to satisfy archaic dress codes that are in desperate need of review.

The findings of the report contradict reassurances made by the prime minister, Theresa May, back in 2011 when she dismissed concerns over dress codes saying:

“Traditional gender-based workplace dress codes […] encourage a sense of professionalism in the workplace.”

Nicola Thorp

The need for a report was confirmed following the treatment of Nicola Thorp a receptionist who reported for work at PwC only to be sent home again following her refusal to purchase a pair of high heels.

The case was widely reported, with reception services provider Portico, who had sent Thorp to PwC, criticised for their strict dress code.  Portico has since seen their dress code leaked and people were shocked by the level of detail they go into. Below is an example of the dress code:

Hair – want to see:

  • Regularly maintained hair colour (if individual colours hair) with no visible roots

Hair – don’t want to see:

  • Greasy, wet, or highly gelled
  • Flowers worn as accessories
  • Visible root growth

Makeup – want to see:

  • Light blusher
  • Lipstick or tinted gloss
  • Mascara
  • Eye shadow
  • Light foundation/powder

Makeup – don’t want to see:

  • No make-up at all
  • Shiny faces
  • Sparkle/glitter

Shoes – want to see:

  • Heel height normally a minimum of two inches and maximum of four inches, unless otherwise agreed by the company.

Shoes – don’t want to see:

  • Slingback or open-toe shoes
  • Shoes with ankle straps
  • Suede or patent shoes
  • Loafer or ballet pump style shoes
  • Shoes with gold/silver buckles, straps or bows
  • Wedges
  • Sandals

Shortly afterwards, Thorp launched a petition calling for law firms to stop requiring women to wear high heels at work. The petition attracted over 150,000 signatures and consequently resulted in the women and equalities committee and the petitions committee to invite other examples of dress code discrimination.

The parliamentary report has since ruled that hundreds of women have faced discrimination by being forced to comply with archaic dress codes which the report described as troubling and evidence that the Equalities Act 2010 is not adequately protecting workers. The report said:

“We heard from hundreds of women who told us about the pain and long-term damage caused by wearing high heels for long periods in the workplace, as well as from women who had been required to dye their hair blonde, to wear revealing outfits and to constantly re-apply makeup.

“The Government has said that the existing law is clear, and that the dress code that prompted this petition is already unlawful. Nevertheless, discriminatory dress codes remain widespread.

“It is therefore clear that the existing law is not yet fully effective in protecting employees from discrimination at work. We call on the Government to review this area of law.”

The Fawcett Society, the UK’s leading charity campaigning for gender equality and women’s rights, said:

“There have been statements from women expressing that being asked to look ‘sexy’ in the workplace leads to the uncomfortable realisation that the business they work for is profiting from their bodies.”

This sends out a clear message that appearance is valued more than a person’s experience or skillset.


There is a certain amount of uncertainty surrounding the Equality Act when it pertains to makeup, with no clear outline for what is and is not considered discrimination. One example given to the committees was a casino worker who was asked to carry a makeup bag with her during the day to ensure she can reapply at regular intervals.

Another area of uncertainty is the LGBT community, with certain dress codes reinforcing stereotypes that could make them feel uncomfortable.

Is this an overreaction?

Perhaps the concern that a segment of people could feel uncomfortable by a dress code is political correctness gone mad, although it’s more likely that certain opinions have yet to catch up with the rest of the world.

For years, women have been made to be the object of lust in the workplace. Whether you’re watching Maggie Gyllenhaal play an overly sexualised PA in The Secretary or Christina Hendricks playing a busty office manager in the hit TV series Mad Men, the focus is clearly on their bodies and the effect it has on the men around them. While you could forgive Mad Men for their misogynistic take on the office manager, it was based in the ‘60s after all; it does depict a time and attitude that has clearly moved on.

While certain roles within an organisation require employees to ‘dress to impress’, it Is indefensible the level of control a company like Portico hold over their female employees. Whether there is a similar dress code for men that requires a tie, polished shoes, manicured nails and a strategically placed handkerchief, remains to be seen.

Regardless, it is frustrating to still be discussing sexist dress codes that discriminate and force a level of discomfort on employees. The reality is that a well thought out dress code protects a business’ reputation and brand, ensuring that employees are comfortable, yet able to accurately represent their employer in a well maintained and professional manner.

If you would like to speak us to review your dress code or provide guidance on the correct way to enforce one, contact Opsium Employer Support today.

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Top five employment law changes for 2017


Five employment law changes to look out for in 2017

With 2016 now a mere memory for most it’s time to start panicking about the employment law changes you’ve known about for a year but left till the last minute. So in no particular order, we’ve put together the top five employment law changes you need to be thinking about in 2017.

Gender pay gap

If you work in an organisation that employs more than 250 individuals and you’re in the private, public or voluntary sector you will soon be required to publish information on the gender pay gap in your workplace.

Information must include standard pay and any bonuses and also the number of male and female workers within each quartile of the organisation’s pay structure.

While regulations have yet to be finalised, the deadline for the first report is April 2018 meaning 2017 is the year to get your affairs in order.

Salary sacrifice takes a hit

With a number of salary sacrifice schemes being abolished in April 2017 employers will need to take a closer look at their tax saving options. Mobile phones, gym memberships, accommodation, school fees and white goods will no longer be eligible, although pensions, childcare and cycle-to-work schemes are exempt.

If you have a scheme that has been in place prior to April 2017, it will be protected until 2018, while those relating to cars, accommodation and school fees are protected until 2021.

The move is expected to cost employees and employers £85m in 2017/18 and over the next six years will generate an additional £1bn in tax.

National minimum wage changes

From April 2017, the national minimum wage will increase by 4% to £7.50 an hour for 25s and over. The increase is part of the proposed plans to implement a national living wage, which will be £9 an hour by 2020.

The increase is expected to put an extra £600 in the pockets of over 25s although experts including Hannah Maundrell, editor in chief of Money.co.uk, have expressed concerns that it still isn’t enough for families to maintain a good standard of living.

Apprenticeship levy being introduced

From April 2017, employers with an annual payroll of more than £3m will be required to pay a 0.5% levy on their total bill to invest in apprenticeships. Those with annual wages lower than £3m will be able to take advantage of Government supplements for training apprentices.

The Government will top up 10% to the levy sum each month, which employers in England will gain access to through an account with the Digital Apprenticeship Service. Employers in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will have separate arrangements put into place.

With the Government eager to train 3m apprentices by 2020, you will begin to see a big push for employers to take part in all areas of the scheme.


Prime Minister Theresa May announced that she intends to trigger Article 50 before the end of March 2017, although with the recent Supreme Court decision that a parliamentary vote must be passed before Article 50 can be invoked, that date may be a little optimistic.

Many UK employment rights derive from EU law and while current laws are not at risk of change anytime soon, the future of employment rights certainly could be.

Until we have a clear vision of the landscape post-Brexit, the chance of Britain moving away from EU laws and regulations is still very much up in the air.

Other things to look out for

Holiday pay

One case employers need to keep an eye on is the Lock V British Gas case in regards to whether holiday pay should include contractual results based commission. This has gone back and forth for several years now with British Gas launching the latest appeal to the Supreme Court. A judgement is expected sometime in 2017 and considering the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruling against British Gas, it is unlikely that the Supreme Court will uphold the appeal.

Ban on Muslim headscarves

There are currently two cases pending a decision by the ECJ on whether the banning of Muslim headscarves in the workplace amounts to direct discrimination.

A decision is expected soon and could cause huge waves for all involved.

Changes to rules for employing foreign workers

Employers who sponsor foreign workers will be required to pay an immigration skills charge of £1,000 per worker, or £364 for small employers and charities, from April 2017. These will be in addition to the current fees for visa applications.

If you would like to know more about these changes or any others that are on the horizon, contact Opsium Employer Support today.

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The average cost of loss

The backbone of any great SME is the employees. Hardworking, dedicated, loyal, the holy trinity of employee traits. But when that shining example decides to up sticks and moves to a new role, the cost could be much higher than you can stomach.

According to new research by AXA PPP Healthcare, the average cost of replacing an employee is £30,000. No, you didn’t squint, that’s thirty thousand pounds, sterling. While the pound may be on life support, the numbers add up.

SME bosses claim that recruitment costs, training and lost productivity are increasing the average cost of replacing an employee. That’s why UK SMEs are predicting that 2017 will be the year of retention with 35% of employers surveyed focusing on work/life balance, 21% offering more flexibility in the role and 19% investing in better procurement practices to save costs.

Speaking about the results of the survey, Paul Moulton, intermediary distribution director for AXA PPP Healthcare, said:

"Getting and keeping talented people is an essential part of running a successful business. It's encouraging that SMEs acknowledge the importance of employee work/life balance as creating a positive environment where workers can flourish is, undoubtedly, key to building and maintaining a motivated, loyal workforce - and safeguarding a business from the risk of losing valuable people.

"It's also promising that so many SMEs say they are expecting to grow their workforce in 2017 as this should present intermediaries with an opportunity to further support their clients' growing businesses."

While the comments paint a picture of a rosy 2017 for SMEs and employees alike, with 24% of those surveyed looking to hire three to five people in the new year, that could all be set to change in the new year with an increase to the national living wage and minimum wage.

With auto-enrolment increases, apprenticeship levy and the recent changes to holiday pay, businesses are going to have to tighten their belts and find savings where they can, and with Brexit expected to further shape the business landscape in 2017, SMEs would be remiss to plan too far ahead. Instead, the aim must be on steadying the ship and bolstering departments when and if needed.

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What the last Autumn Statement means for your business


With Chancellor Phillip Hammond giving his first and last Autumn Statement, millions tuned in eager to know how it would affect them. From the National Living Wage to National Insurance contributions we’ve put together a quick guide to the Autumn Statement changes for employers.

National Minimum Wage

From April 2017 the National Living Wage will increase from £7.20 to £7.50 for anyone over 25, equating to an increase of more than £500 a year for full time workers. That’s not all, workers on the National Minimum Wage will see an increase in their pay packet too.

◾ 21-24 year olds will receive an increase of 10p per hour from £6.95 to £7.05
◾18-20 year olds will receive an increase of 5p per hour from £5.55 to £5.60
◾16-17 year olds will also receive an increase of 5p per hour from £4 to £4.05
◾The hourly minimum wage for apprentices will also increase from £3.40 to £3.50

While this is good news for workers, employers will feel the squeeze following additional costs such as the apprenticeship levy, pension auto-enrolment increases and the recent changes to holiday pay.

Employers in the retail and hospitality sector had the worst to fear from the increase, although they were able to offset the costs by increasing prices, reducing hours or reducing premium payments but this may come at the expense of a customer / employee backlash.

For other sectors who do not have the luxury of offsetting costs through flexibility, they may find themselves having to increase productivity or passing on the additional cost to customers. This may have a detrimental effect on customers, especially if you are not offering an improved service.  

Personal Allowance Increase

From April 2017, the tax free Personal Allowance will increase from £11,000 to £11,500 with the higher rate threshold also increasing to £45,000. Hammond also confirmed they are still on track to meet their target of a tax free personal allowance of £12,500 by 2020.

From 2020, the increase is expected to rise with inflation as opposed to the NMW.

Employee Shareholder Status (ESS)

Hammond confirmed that the tax relief available under the Employee Shareholder Status will be abolished for any agreements commencing 1st December 2016. The Government have also confirmed that they are looking to abolish the ESS status altogether 'at the earliest opportunity'.

Salary Sacrifice

Hammond announced an end to most salary sacrifice and benefit in kind schemes from April 2017. Describing both as “unfair” and confirming that employees who use these schemes will pay the same tax as everyone else.

Schemes that will be exempt from the axe include pension contributions, cycle to work and childcare vouchers.

Termination Payments

From April 2018, the current arrangement on taxation of termination payments up to £30,000 will continue, however for payments over the £30,000 NICs will apply.

National Insurance

From April 2017, National Insurance payments for employees and employers will align with payments starting on weekly earnings of £157 or more. While this change is expected to make payments simpler for all involved, the treasury confirmed it will cost employers an extra £7.18 per employee per year.

If you’d like to know more about the changes and how they affect your business contact Opsium for the latest guidance and advice.

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Top tips on boosting staff morale this Christmas

With Christmas fast approaching you may notice a veil of lethargy drape over your team like a fog in a snow storm. So how do you keep your team motivated during the festive period?

We’ve put together a few handy tips to ensure your Christmas goes off with a ‘ho ho ho’ instead of a ‘bah humbug’.

Plan ahead

If you’re lucky enough to have been trading for a few years, you should be able to accurately predict your peaks and troughs of the year. This will give you a better understand of the staff levels you need to ensure that customer service and productivity don’t suffer.

If in doubt, create a list of employees who could be ‘on-call’ should you find yourself understaffed during the busy periods.  

Join in

There’s no harm getting into the festive spirit. Inject some fun into the office with a Christmas quiz, decorations or some Christmas tunes to get people in the mood. Keeping spirits high will go a long way to increasing productivity and to stop employees pining for home.

Every little helps

More and more of us are shunning the high street battleground and shopping online. By letting your staff have their Christmas shopping delivered to the office you can help remove one of their biggest stresses, enabling them to focus on the task at hand.

Arrange for parcels to be stored in a convenient and secure location. They can then be collected at the end of the shift, ensuring piece of mind all round.


If you are able, why not allow employees to rearrange their hours slightly. Offer an early start / finish and a late start / finish shift pattern to help employees manage their work-life balance at this busy time of year.

Frankie says RELAX 

If you have a business dress code try relaxing it over the Christmas period by implementing festive dress of red and green or Christmas jumper days.

Nobody likes a Scrooge

Why not offer ad-hoc prizes amongst the staff to spread some holiday cheer. Mini raffles and best-dressed awards will encourage people to get involved and incentivise staff.

One more thing, it's not just holidays that are coming, it’s also sick days!

With the change in weather, increased social activities and stress of getting things sorted for Christmas you are bound to see an increase in absence during the winter months. If you need to know how to better manage sickness and unauthorised absence call us for advice.

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