A legal ruling that decided a man working for Jobcentre Plus had been
treated less favourably because he was required to wear a collar and tie to
work has been overturned after an appeal.
An Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) has ruled that the case must be heard
again before another tribunal in Manchester, although the case could eventually
end up at the Court of Appeal.
The original verdict last year backed Matthew Thompson’s claim that he was
being unfairly treated on the grounds of his sex because higher standards of
dress were expected of male staff.
This cleared the way for a further 6,950 other male job centre staff to
lodge similar complaints.
However, the appeal has now put the outcome of the case – Work and Pensions
v Thompson, EAT/0254/03 – back in the balance by deciding the first tribunal
did not ask the right question.
Michael Ball, employment partner at law firm Halliwell Landau, said a
definitive outcome could be some way off. "The EAT said that the question
the employment tribunal should have asked was whether, applying contemporary
standards of conventional dresswear, the level of smartness required by staff
could only be achieved by men if they wore a collar and tie."
The next hearing of the case, which will be heard within the next six
months, must consider if men can achieve an appropriate level of smartness
without wearing a collar and tie.
"The issue is not resolved by asking whether the requirement for a
collar an tie meant a higher level of smartness was required of men than women.
It’s whether an equivalent level of smartness could only be achieved in the
case of men by making them wear a collar and tie," Ball explained.
"The tribunal had not made any findings that specifically determined
the correct question. It could go on for a while yet."