Is it illegal and/or outdated to advertise for ‘attractive’ staff?

A London bar has drawn criticism after posting a job advert for bar staff.

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”.


Taking things one step further is a Secretary Affairs, a world-wide recruitment company based out of Prague. The company boasts that it recruits “glamorous and qualified assistants who will create the perfect first impression”.

Jacob Demeza-Wilkinson says:

“This company’s mantra seems to reinforce that it is common practice to use physical attractiveness as a recruitment criteria. As explained, it is not illegal to do so but you are certainly treading on very thin ice by taking this approach. Not only could they fall foul of the Equality Act but they will likely find that they are rejecting numerous outstanding candidates as a result of this stance.


“On the face of things, it does not seem to make business sense to restrict your recruitment process to include such subjective criteria. The importance they pin on physical attractiveness in the roles they are recruiting for seems to be well wide of the mark. Most people would rather deal with someone who knows what they are doing, rather than someone who could be considered more attractive but doesn’t. Furthermore, I’m sure many would be put off applying to work for a boss who puts more emphasis on physical attractiveness than business acumen – a flashback to the days of women in the workplace being seen as nothing more than ‘totty’ is never a good thing.  


“The underlying issue of damage to reputation as a result of a company’s approach to recruitment will always be there. The backlash is likely to be wide ranging and overwhelmingly negative, and it doesn’t seem commercially sensible to pin the success of your business on an outdated ideology such as this. It is always strongly advisable to recruit on merit alone”.

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