Telling female employees to wear make-up is considered sexual harassment, a tribunal ruled after a waitress at a Soho restaurant was told she should wear some because she looks “tired and unpresentable”.
Jahnayde Henry, a 24-year-old former waitress at the Soho, London restaurant Tattu, sued the restaurant after her manager demanded she wear make-up in her following shift, making her feel “undermined”.
A judge has backed Henry, saying that this type of comment would not have been directed at a male employee. They added that telling a female employee how she should improve how she looks creates a 'humiliating environment'.
The swanky central London restaurant opened in 2022, and Henry had two weeks training ahead of the business’ opening. However, the restaurant’s manager, Joanna Huang, was “very strict”, “draconian” and “always wants 100 per cent”, the tribunal heard.
The tribunal also heard that Henry was told her voice was too “bland or boring” on her first night of waitressing and that she should try to “liven it up”. While in a following shift, Huang went on to tell Henry that she would have to improve “if she was going to make it as a server at Tattu”.
Henry told the panel that she was constantly “checked and criticised” to maintain the restaurants “high standards”.
Telling female employees to wear make-up
The tribunal ruled that Huang telling Henry that “she should wear make-up" was a gender-specific comment, meaning it was upheld as sex harassment in court.
The judge said: “We concluded that saying that an individual looked "tired and unpresentable" was not related to sex, as that could equally be said to a man.
“In the Tribunal's judgement, saying that next time, the individual should wear some make-up, is a sex-specific comment, in that - although it is not unknown for men to wear make-up - it is not a comment that would ordinarily be made to a man.”
Read more from us
'Fix your face' | Vodafone worker's jibe over colleague's acne raises bullying issues for HR
Henry's compensation is set to be decided at a later date.
This case highlights the fact that even in a professional environment there is a different standard for women, in terms of physical appearance, than there is for men.
A 2022 study from Maryville University found that 52% of women prefer to work from home due to the stress, time and money involved in needing to perform the narrow definition of ‘beauty’ and ‘professionalism’ in our society.
This study found that being a woman in the workplace means women are expected to wear make-up and look ‘professional’, with US women spending on average 45 minutes on grooming – hair styling and putting on make-up – everyday. The same research from that when an average white female professional gains 64 pounds, her wages drop by 9%.
Most employers recognise that they can’t tell their employees how they should present the way they look. However, when workers are judged based on their appearance, this criticism is more often geared to female employees over male, making it a gendered issue.
Therefore, employers must take into consideration the societal and systemic pressures female workers face around their appearance, and potentially integrate this into unconscious bias training.