A leading high street clothing retailer has put its staff discount policy “under review”, after a PinkNews investigation revealed that it may be “indirectly discriminating” against gay and lesbian staff members in breach of the Equality Act 2010.
PinkNews was approached by a group of several New Look employees, who forwarded a document detailing the staff discount policy, but who wished to remain anonymous.
As it stands, New Look’s staff discount policy allows all employees a 50% discount for themselves, and 50% for one other person. The catch is that the other person has to be of the opposite sex.
The discount also allows any staff member give away the discount to any two people, one male and one female, should they choose not to use it themselves.
PinkNews spoke to several staff members at a number branches of the retailer, all of whom were under the impression that the discount would allow a gay or lesbian partner of a staff member to use the discount.
Despite this, there is no way for an employee in a same-sex relationship to offer the discount to their partner.
When approached by PinkNews, a spokesperson for the company initially pointed to the policy document, stating: “New Look does not base this staff privilege around couples, the policy is focused on our employees having the benefit of discount across both menswear and womenswear clothing – they can use this how they choose to.”
The representative also said the discount was “based on margins and stock levels… in order to spread spend across the stock options, protect profit and be able to more easily identify misuse of staff discount.
“It is absolutely not designed to be a couples benefit and is primarily a benefit to be used by the person employed by New Look.”
New Look stated that there was no requirement to be in any kind of relationship including civil partners, and that the only stipulation was that the discount was only available to one male and one female.
It stated there was “no requirement that you are co-habiting, in a partnership (civil or otherwise), or married.”
Straight couples currently cannot enter civil partnerships in the UK, so it is unclear why civil partnerships are included in the policy description. New look did not respond to a question regarding this.
On seeking legal advice, PinkNews pointed out that the benefit was possibly in breach of the Equality Act 2010, through “indirect discrimination”, by allowing all straight employees the choice to use the discount for their opposite-sex partner, but denying the same choice to gay, bisexual or lesbian staff.
A New Look spokesperson has now responded to say: “At New Look we are committed to listening to our employees to make sure they are being treated fairly and we continually review policies to make sure they match this. In light of recent feedback from our employees on our staff discount privileges we are reviewing our current policy in its entirety and ask for sufficient time to complete this.”
Mark Bramwell, a Solicitor at MyLawyer, a firm providing legal services for Barclays, Natwest and RBS, The AA and Admiral, had advised PinkNews that in his opinion, the policy was in breach of the Equality Act through “indirect discrimination”.
He said: “This is clearly indirect discrimination of gay staff and a breach of the Equality Act 2010.
“The opposite sex criterion New Look has applied to the nominated friend 50% staff discount places gay staff at a particular disadvantage as they are precluded from nominating their partner unlike straight staff. Giving the discount to their mum, dad, sibling or friend would not put them in the same position as straight staff. Equally, it would be difficult for New Look to justify this policy if a claim was made as it is hard to see what genuine business reasons they could put forward for this rule.
“It seems that not much (if any) consideration was given of the implications of such a criterion or the fact that someone of a particular sexual orientation would be less likely to meet it.”
Since this article was published, Labour Shadow Equalities Minister Gloria De Piero told PinkNews: “New Look should think about the message this may send to staff in same sex relationships who want to take advantage of the offer for their partner just as opposite sex couples do.”
Conservative Party Vice Chairman Michael Fabricant said: “I am surprised and slightly alarmed that a trendy clothing chain like New Look can be so old fashioned in their treatment of gay employees. Their HR department should have spotted this.”
Acting Stonewall Chief Executive Ruth Hunt, told PinkNews: “Lesbian, gay and bisexual people play a rather important role in Britain’s fashion industry. If New Look wants to attract the very best staff they might want to revisit this particular policy.”