Is it illegal to require staff to be ‘attractive’?

With more and more stories emerging of businesses not focussing on equality when recruiting, we take a look at how businesses can be more inclusive.

We live in a world that has become increasingly aware and accepting of diversity within society, but stories still regularly emerge where a businesses reputation takes a hit because they are seen as old-fashioned and backwards thinking in their views.

A recent, high profile case where a business defended their right to force a staff member to wear high heels at work is still raging, with a petition started to get the law overturned and be more friendly to women who spend time on their feet.

A shocking amount of column inches are dedicated to stories on discrimination when hiring staff members as businesses continue to struggle to hold onto their values in a progressive and societally aware world.

Much more recently, a London bar has drawn criticism after posting a job advert for bar staff that focussed more than just the candidates ability to perform the job. The ad, by House of Wax, stated that “physical attractiveness is unfortunately necessary for this role” and, as well as a having a fun, lively attitude, it also specified that female applicants “must be comfortable wearing black heels during their shift.”

Predictably, the backlash has been swift with Nicola Thorp, whose petition regarding the requirement to wear high heels was debated in Parliament, leading the way.

Jacob Demeza-Wilkinson is an employment law consultant for the ELAS Group. He says, “This is actually a strange one. It is not strictly unlawful to put a requirement such as this in a job advert however there are considerations that we would advise making before a company took the risk – and it is a risk – of posting an advert such as this.

“Firstly, you would need to be aware that if someone with a physical disability applied for the role, you could not automatically reject their application by saying that the disability caused that individual to not be attractive enough. They would have to be considered for the role on merit alone.

“Secondly, you would need to ensure that the policy is applied equally to both male and female applicants. Solely asking for attractive female staff would be discriminatory as women would be put at a detriment. Furthermore attractiveness is highly subjective, and having this as a job requirement makes it very difficult to justify your recruitment decisions, which means a company will find it very difficult to justify rejecting someone with a protected characteristic thereby leaving them open to a discrimination claim. Given the Supreme Court’s recent decision to abolish tribunal fees a lot of people will now not even think twice before filing a claim.

“Finally, as we have seen from the backlash in this case, the damage done to your reputation can be significant. Whilst you may have technically done nothing wrong, reputation is something that every business will rank very highly on the list of important factors and it can be very hard to recover once the damage has been done.

“With all of that in mind, whilst not strictly incorrect, it would be highly advisable to avoid adverts containing criteria of this type in order to ensure that you protect your business.”

Owen Gough

Owen Gough

Owen Gough is a reporter for He has a background in small business marketing strategies and is responsible for writing content on subjects ranging from small business finance to technology...

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