Richard Branson has sparked controversy by introducing a new uniform for staff on his Virgin Rail franchise. Of particular concern are the blouses that female employees complain “leave little to the imagination”.
The business guru is no stranger to controversy, often courting the press with off the wall stunts to gather publicity for his numerous business ventures and boost his Virgin brand. Indeed, the rail franchise recently came out on top after querying the merits of a competitors bid succeeding over its own.
This time, however, the employees are the disaffected party and the company runs the risk of rebellion. The new uniform includes new red blouses through which dark bras can be seen. Adding further insult, the blouses are said not to be particularly well fitting.
By way of ‘compensation’, female staff who have complained about the uniform have been offered £20 vouchers to fund the purchase of more appropriate underwear.
According to Andy Cross, Virgin’s business support director, the introduction of the uniform across the network has been suspended until the end of the month, “to allow time for employees to ensure that they have a uniform they feel comfortable in.”
If this is a PR stunt, it may attract a new type of passenger to the rail network, but will do nothing for the brand amongst forward thinking women and more conservative customers. Much has been done across the transport sector to dispel the image of the glamorous ‘trolley dolly’ in an age of equality amongst the sexes. Whether the men’s uniform is equally ‘ill-fitting’ is yet to be seen.
Third Party Harassment
If the uniform is as revealing as it has been suggested, the female employees may have a claim on the grounds of sex discrimination under the Equality Act. With 3,500 employees, there could be a significant fall out for the company and any number of grievances and complaints from within the ranks as well as from disgruntled or offended customers.
The move has come at the same time as an employer’s liability for harassment of its employees by a third party is set to be discontinued under the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act, which received Royal Assent last month.
We have all seen the adverts of Branson dressed up as Usain Bolt and Mo Farah, but perhaps in his next advert he might be encouraged to don one of his own more revealing uniforms?