Earlier this month, anger in Japan surfaced following Japanese television network Nippon TV airing a story about employers banning female workers from wearing glasses, instead insisting that they wear contact lenses as an alternative.
According to local media, the reasons behind this ban differ depending on the industry. The retail industry in Japan argues that customers are left with a “cold impression” if they are wearing glasses, meanwhile the airline sector view wearing glasses to be a safety issue. Traditional restaurants have also enforced the spectacle ban as they believe that they do not suit old-fashioned styles of Japanese clothing.
However this isn’t the first time employers in Japan have faced a backlash from female workers as a result of their dress code expectations. In June of this year, following the success of the #MeToo movement, social media campaign #KuToo was launched to criticise the rules that require women to wear high heels to work. The hashtag plays on the Japanese words for shoe (kutsu) and pain (kutsuu).
Japanese actor and writer Yumi Ishikawa started a petition in June to call an end to the outdated practice as she reported that she suffered from back pain and bunions as a result of having to wear heels whilst working. The petition received more than 31,000 signatures and was presented to the Japanese labour minister who, within days, responded by saying that wearing high heels whilst working is “occupationally necessary and appropriate”.
When comparing Japan’s current situation with our own, the UK is actually not that far behind in regards to the amount of issues surrounding dress code expectations in the workplace.
In 2016, a temporary receptionist named Nicola Thorp placed at PwC was sent home after refusing to wear high heels. Subsequently, Ms Thorp launched a petition which received in excess of 150,000 signatures and was therefore debated in parliament. However, the first attempt to introduce legislation safeguarding employees’ rights regarding dress codes failed in 2017.
Norwegian Air also dropped a controversial policy this year that required female cabin crew to wear heels, and they must carry a doctor’s note at all times if they wished to wear flat shoes. Also the dress code states that female crew members must wear make-up to work, however male staff are not permitted to wear make-up unless it’s used to conceal acne or bruises.
There are many reasons why dress codes are often used in work, such as:-
- for health and safety reasons;
- to ensure employees are easily identifiable by customers; and/or
- to promote a corporate image.
It is important that an employer’s dress code policy is not discriminatory against employees who are considered to have a protected characteristic in respect of the Equality Act 2010. This can be achieved by ensuring that dress codes are applied to both men and women equally and being prepared to make reasonable adjustments for a disabled person if they are put at a substantial disadvantage. As a rule, the more flexibility that an employer can offer whilst still achieving its objectives will mean that it is less likely that there will be a problem.
When creating a dress code policy it is good practice to consider the reasoning behind it, and whether it has the potential to be detrimental to any individual, perhaps on grounds of age. Similarly, when revising a dress code, it is also recommended that employees, staff organisation or trade unions are consulted to try to ensure the policy is acceptable to both the employer and its staff and is capable of working in practice.
If you have any questions regarding dress codes in the workplace or require any help drafting or revising them, then please do not hesitate to get in contact with us.
For more information, visit: Japan 'glasses ban' for women at work sparks backlash.