A piece in today’s Telegraph:
Judge intervenes after Boots warehouse worker was reprimanded for wearing three-quarter length shorts on a hot summer day
It used to be the case that, in the words of the designer Tom Ford, gentlemen “should never wear shorts,” except on holiday and the beach.
Now a judge has intervened in the argument, striking a significant blow for the right of men to expose their legs while at work.
Judge Alan Johnson ruled it was discriminatory for men to be banned from wearing shorts at work if their female colleagues are at the same time allowed to wear short trousers and leggings.
He found that Boots warehouse worker Mukid Mia suffered discrimination on the grounds of sex when he was reprimanded for breaking the company’s dress code by wearing a pair of three-quarter length shorts into work on a hot summer day.
An employment tribunal, held in Manchester, heard that managers at Boots Management Services’ warehouse in Preston had acknowledged there was a problem with temperatures in the building rising to uncomfortable levels.
But when Mr Miah arrived at work in the summer of 2018 wearing a pair of three-quarter length black cotton trousers he was confronted by his manager, Steven Lea, who told him: “I don’t want to see you in those shorts tomorrow.”
The tribunal heard another male colleague was disciplined for wearing a pair of “ankle grazers” which finished just above the ankle after being found in breach of the company dress code, which has since changed. This stated that “shorts could not be worn” but that leggings, trousers, jogging bottoms and skirts with opaque tights were permitted.
Mr Miah, whose job was to distribute medicines to local branches, complained that he was being discriminated against, saying that his female co-workers were routinely allowed to wear leggings and trousers that were not full length.
In his ruling Judge Johnson said it was clear “women were afforded a greater degree of discretion” when it came to showing their legs.
He said: “The real question was whether this policy was being applied consistently to male and female employees and [Mr Miah] argued that women were able to wear three-quarter length trousers or leggings without being subject to management criticism.
“[A female colleague] said that she was able to come into work wearing what she described as ‘cycling shorts just above the knee’ and that management did not criticise her for doing this.”
Mr Miah claimed that he regularly saw other women who worked in the warehouse wearing three-quarter length trousers or leggings.
Judge Johnson continued: “The Tribunal does find that women were afforded a greater degree of discretion when choosing to wear trousers or leggings that ended above the ankle but below the knee.
“It is therefore not surprising that the respondent replaced this dress code in 2019 with the standard Boots dress code which allowed employees to wear tailored shorts.”
Judge Johnson said it was not an issue of “shorts versus leggings,” but of “management not applying a coherent and consistent discretion as to when a pair of trousers became a pair of shorts on a man and on a woman”.
He concluded: “On this basis, the respondent treated the claimant less favourably than others because of his sex and in principle this complaint is well founded.”
Judge Johnson ruled that although Mr Miah had been discriminated against his case was ultimately unsuccessful as it had been submitted out of time. The tribunal found that his other claims of victimisation and constructive unfair dismissal were not well founded and were dismissed.
Legal experts said that while the ruling does not set a binding precedent it does confirm the principle that it is unlawful to treat a man less favourably than a woman because of their sex.
John-Paul Waite, barrister at 5 Essex Court, said: “The nub of the discrimination seems to have been that a more relaxed dress code was applied to women than men. The decision illustrates the importance of having equivalent standards of formality in a dress code.”
Stephen Moore, partner and head of Employment at Ashfords LLP, added: “This employment tribunal ruling does not necessarily mean that men now have an unfettered right to wear shorts to work. Judge Alan Johnson specified in the ruling that the problem in this case was because the dress code policy was not being applied consistently between male and female employees. Employers should therefore ensure that workplace dress codes do not place more restrictions on one sex than another and that dress codes are clear and applied consistently.”
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