Equalities Office rejects new law on forcing women to wear heels at work

The Government has rejected calls to outlaw company bosses from forcing female employees to wear high heels at work.

The Equalities Office made the decision to not introduce a new law banning companies from requiring women to wear high heels in the workplace.

They said existing legislation was ‘adequate’  to deal with discrimination on gender grounds, but it would issue guidelines to firms this summer.

Heels became a hot topic in Britain after receptionist Nicola Thorp was sent home without pay from her job as a receptionist at finance firm PwC in December 2015 for wearing flat shoes.

Last year she started an online petition that gathered more than 152,400 signatures and triggered a debate in Parliament.

Thorp has called the committees decision a ‘cop-out’. She told the Press Association:

“It’s a shame they won’t change legislation. It shouldn’t be down to people like myself … I do think it is a little bit of a cop-out.”

“As it stands, the Equality Act states an employer has the right to distinguish between a male and female dress code as long as they are not deemed to be treating one sex more or less favourably.

“Unfortunately, because of intrinsic sexism and the way in which business works in the UK, when employers are allowed the freedom to decide what is fair and unfair it tends to be women that lose out.”

 

The inquiry on workplace dress codes highlighted cases where women were made to wear heels even for jobs that included climbing ladders, carrying heavy luggage, carrying food and drink up and down stairs and walking long distances.

Others were told to dye their hair, reapply make-up, have manicures and unbutton their blouses to entice male customers.

“Equality legislation is not sufficient to achieve equality in practice.

“This petition, and the committees’ inquiry, have reinforced the need for effective enforcement of legislation and for employers and employees to be aware of their obligations and rights.

Professor Binna Kandola, OBE, an expert on diversity and gender discrimination in the workplace at Pearn Kandola, has commented:

“Neither men nor women should be unfairly asked to dress in a certain way within the workplace. If both men and women are instructed to be smart, then this should not be a problem. However, if instructions are given to women (i.e. you must wear make-up and heels), but not to men (i.e. you must wear a tie), then gender bias is at play.

Interestingly, women are more likely to be stereotyped in the workplace if they dress in more ‘feminine’ ways. It was not that long ago that female police officers had to wear skirts and carry a handbag. They were also far less likely to be assigned to key operational roles. Unfortunately, their dress had contributed to the stereotype that men were stronger and more active.

Furthermore, some companies might demand a particular way of dressing, and then blame it on their customers. This is a convenient way of not taking responsibility for their own views and should not be used as a reason to act unfairly; companies can also guide their customers to do the right thing.

We will await with interest to see the new guidelines issued by the Equalities Office over the summer.”

4 Comments - Write a Comment

  1. So…if a female can be made to wear high heels at work, then this brings a scenario of discriminatory questioning at interview? Do you have a physical impediment that would necessitate you wearing flat shoes? Would that question be asked of a male? Don’t think so!

  2. Not only is insistence on the wearing of heels sex discrimination, but it is also age discrimination as many older women are unable to wear heels due to foot problems and discrimination against people with disabilities who either are unable to wear heels or for whom the chance of accidents is increased because of their instability. So the ‘heels’ requirement is discrimination on several levels, a point which the Equalities Office should bear in mind.

  3. I don’t understand this, on one hand we have a government promoting women in the workplace, making childcare more affordable and encouraging equality, but then they don’t seem to want to know on this matter.

  4. To me it’s a simple question of contractual terms. It’s nothing to do with equality, sex discrimination, age discrimination or any kind of discrimination. If the contract she signed stipulated a dress code and a part of that code was to wear high heels then I can’t see why she would complain.
    If she didn’t want to abide by PWC dress code then she should have refused to sign the contract and so refused the job. PWC then could have appointed someone who was happy to honour their contact.
    So basically she terminated her employment. No sympathy.

Post Comment