The Daily Telegraph

Telling men to wear ties is sex discrimination

By Sandra Laville
(Filed: 12/03/2003)
The Daily Telegraph (UK)

A backroom civil servant who was ordered by his Government employers to wear a collar and tie to work was a victim of sexual discrimination, an industrial tribunal ruled yesterday.

Matthew Thompson, 32, from Stockport, could from now on discard his tie, because women in the same JobCentre office were not subjected to the same rigorous dress codes, the panel said.

While Mr Thompson, who chose to appear at the tribunal in a blue shirt and patterned tie, expressed delight, the trade union that represented him said it had another 40 men who wanted to discard their ties, awaiting hearings on the same issue.

A spokesman for the Public and Commercial Services union said the decision in Mr Thompson's case was a "victory for common sense".

He hoped that managers in the Department for Work and Pensions would negotiate a solution on the other cases. But a spokesman for the department said it was "very disappointed" and would appeal.

Mr Thompson, an assistant administrator at the JobCentre in Stockport, who had no face-to-face contact with the public, refused to abide by dress codes introduced by his managers last June.

He claimed that they were discriminatory; they created a situation where female staff were allowed to wear T-shirts, albeit only well-fitting ones, with no logos and only "tasteful embroidery", while men had to don a shirt and tie.

He was disciplined several times and only agreed to wear a tie under protest. Finding for him, the tribunal in Manchester ruled that it was only because Mr Thompson was a man that he had been forced to wear a collar and tie.

"If we were to turn the argument round and the only mandatory item of clothing had been for a woman to wear, say, a skirt, and she was disciplined for wearing some other item, would that be deemed discriminatory against her on the grounds of sex? We believe it would be," they said.

They found that the requirement to wear a collar and tie was gender-based and there were no items of clothing that were imposed on women in the same office.

The code, which aimed at encouraging staff to dress in a "professional and businesslike manner", read: "For men the basic standard is to wear a collar and tie; for women to dress appropriately and to a similar standard …Within these rules staff are free to decide what clothes to wear."

At his hearing last month Mr Thompson said he did photocopying, filing and other administrative jobs. "I was angry that management had imposed the dress code without any consultation or notice," he said. "I felt it was discriminatory.

"It was a specific requirement on men when there didn't seem to be an equivalent requirement for a woman."

He claimed compensation for injury to his feelings after claiming that his human rights were breached. The Department for Work and Pensions last night stuck by its dress code. A spokesman maintained that dress standards were an important part of providing a professional service to the public.

"We are going to ask our staff to continue to dress in a professional and businesslike way pending the appeal," said the official.

Andrew James, from Thompsons solicitors, which took the case, said employers in the public and private sector should examine their policy in light of the case.

"Any case which challenges stereotypical assumptions about what men and women should be doing is positive. Any major employer ought to be looking very carefully at its own dress code to ensure that it is not discriminatory and is not being applied in a discriminatory manner."

© Copyright of Telegraph Group Limited 2003.