Club Dress Codes — Is your policy discriminatory? Clubs have long enforced dress codes on patrons, whether they be members, guests or visitors to the club.
Dress codes often take the form of a club by-law created by the management committee or board and enforced by management. Dress codes mean different things for different clubs. For example, a surf club on the Gold Coast may have a much more relaxed dress code than an RSL or inner-city Brisbane club.
Some clubs may strictly enforce their dress codes, while others may view it as more of a suggested guide as to acceptable dress standards. One common theme though is that dress codes often stipulate the minimum dress standards that apply at different times of the day.
Traditionally, what we also see are dress codes that impose differing standards on men and women. While some people may consider this as political correctness gone mad, what I want to stress is that, like it or lump it, discrimination laws in Australia exist for good reason — to protect people from all walks of life against differential treatment based on a protected attribute. Stay with me here, discrimination law is complex but I will do my best to explain it!
What is discrimination? Discrimination occurs when a person is treated differently, because of a protected attribute such as disability, gender, race etc. I know that sounds complicated, but that is the best our astute law makers we have been able to come up with.
Discrimination must also be in a protected area, such as in the employment context, or in the provision of goods and services. How is a rule like men not being able to wear singlets in a club discriminatory?
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Specific to gender, the Sex Discrimination Act Cth the SDAstates that it is discriminatory to treat a person less favourably, in circumstances that are the same or are not materially different, than a person of a different sex. Compliance with a club's dress code is a term or condition of the supply of goods or services to a patron entering a club. A prohibition on men wearing singlets is arguably less favourable to men than women who are permitted to wear singlets. This will also apply to other prohibitions such as footwear and hats.
Risks of discrimination Now I know what you are thinking — why is this all of a sudden a problem?
Our dress code has been in its present form for years and there has never been an issue. There are also some of you asking mens following question — while our dress code does maintain different standards for brisbane and women, what are the risks if we choose to maintain the status quo?
The foremost risk is that a person who is refused entry to the club because of non-compliance with gender-specific dress standards could file a discrimination complaint under the SDA with the Australian Human Rights Commission the AHRC. If the Court is satisfied that there has been unlawful discrimination, the Court may make any orders that it sees fit, including: a an order requiring the club to pay damages by way of compensation for any loss or damage suffered because of the conduct, and b an order declaring that the club has committed unlawful discrimination, and directing the club not to repeat or continue such unlawful discrimination.
Other risks include reputational damage, and we have seen in the past such issues being taken to the media and negative comments made on social media platforms. I know that this article is going to create some opposition and there will be those out there who are reluctant to change.
Queensland - 25 club(s).
Rest assured that I have dealt with this issue for many years and with numerous club managers. The general sentiment is that this industry needs to move with the times and become accommodating and progressive in its thinking. Given how much clubs are relying on people walking through the door, why are we looking for reasons to exclude them? What are the recommendations? The message from the lawyers is simple. It is lawful and reasonable for clubs to set dress standards for people seeking to enter their facilities. However, imposing differing standards for men and women is against the law.
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Following on from this, Clubs Queensland recommends the following: Clubs which currently have differing standards for men and women amend their dress codes to remove such differences Be specific with any exclusions. Discrimination is a complex area of the law and is generally misunderstood. Clubs are encouraged to take this issue seriously and if they have any questions at all about amending their dress codes, contact Clubs Queensland on p: 07