19 September 2011 #Employment
It was reported in this week’s Grazia magazine that a new cause of action in employment law is taking off in the United States, “Personal Appearance Discrimination”.
A number of US States and districts (for example the District of Columbia and Santa Cruz, California) now protect personal appearance in the same way they protect racism, and sexual harassment. The definition of personal appearance under District of Columbia law is extremely wide – “the outward appearance of any person, irrespective of sex, with regard to body condition or characteristics, manner or style of dress, personal grooming including but not limited to hairstyle and beards”
The logic behind this is simple. Surveys undertaken across the globe have shown time and time again that being overweight, badly dressed, un-groomed etc are overlooked for promotion and earn less that their good looking, polished, immaculately dressed, average weight colleagues (see these previous buddy blogs for example Is your workplace fattist? and 4 in 10 will be obese by 2030). Employees who suffer from disfigurements are already protected under the disability discrimination act, as are overweight employees with an underlying medical condition. But the definition of personal appearance discrimination goes wider than that as it would protect employees from discrimination regarding things about themselves that they could change, such as their hairstyle or the clothes that they wear. In fact, it seems that any negative comment regarding any aspect of an individual’s appearance could be subject to proceedings. Is this the purpose of anti discrimination laws?
The writer of the article in Grazia magazine, Fiona McIntosh, expresses her view that discrimination based on your personal appearance should not be given the same status as discrimination based on race or other characteristics protected in the UK. But is she right?