A sales assistant at Harrods claims she has been “driven out” of her job over her refusal to wear makeup.
There are a number of interesting factors to this case, and on balance, I believe the employee has a case for constructive dismissal and I expect her to succeed if she does take it to a tribunal.
While Harrods had a written policy in place, they did not impose it for several years. This means that they in effect entered into a variation of contract by mutual agreement. Also, the code is one of the daftest I’ve seen for a long time. It is arguably equally restrictive for both men and women but insisting that women wear full make-up is out of touch with modern public opinion. How many young women wear full make-up these days? And, ladies, from a male perspective, less is definitely more on this one, trust me. Also, if an employee has sensitive skin that reacts to the layers of face paint, then what? Skin needs to breathe, plastering foundation, powder and blusher will inevitably clog the pores.
I can understand that the store wants to have a smart and professional image for its customer facing employees, but Ms Stark looks perfectly fine without make-up, so any dress code should relate to matters of dress. Anything relating to make-up should confine itself to what not to wear that may go against the corporate image – oh, I dunno, full Goth White with black eye shadow, for example. Conventional and businesslike should be sufficient, leaving it up to the individual to opt for nothing at all, a bit of lippy and eye shadow or the full works if they choose.
Reading the code – or the excerpts published in the Groan – someone has been applying their own personal prejudices and imposing them on others. A man may wear a full set, for example, but a moustache is a no-no. Why? A neatly trimmed moustache is perfectly professional in appearance. Hair must be complementary to skin tone. What? While many women like to dye their hair, most men don’t, so that’s an absurd condition – or are they required to dye their hair if they have dark hair with fair skin, as I have. Men also have to measure their sideburns – they may not be wider than one inch (good grief!). And how many men polish their nails? I certainly don’t. Someone, somewhere in that store is seriously anal.
While it is perfectly fine for Harrods to insist upon suitable appearance for its customer facing staff, such dress codes need to have a business justification. Smart and businesslike fits the bill perfectly. A uniform, which is one sensible way forward for customer facing employees is a simple method of ensuring a consistent corporate image. However, to insist upon full makeup is a step too far. Also, from what I’ve seen of the code, there is an imbalance between men and women as there is not – apparently – a similarly restrictive aspect to the male requirements, so a case for discrimination would probably succeed.
Good luck to Melanie Stark. She deserves to win and I hope she takes the bastards to the cleaners. There’s sensible dress codes and there’s taking the piss. Harrods are very much in the latter camp.
Cross posted and edited from Longrider.