Come Hell or High Heels
Do you know the name Nicola Thorp? Probably not. But you might remember her petition. Back in 2015 Nicola Thorp was told that she would have to go home unpaid from her job at PricewaterhouseCoopers, because she was wearing flat shoes. In 2015. She was later informed in December of the same year that women were expected to wear high heeled shoes of between 2 and 4 inches in length.
A temp worker at the time, Nicola started a petition that collected over 150,000 signatures in a matter of days, leading to a parliamentary debate. When it came to being heard in the Houses, the government stated that there were already sufficient laws in place to combat gender discrimination already, and they could do nothing further.
However, the government did urge companies which have a dress code to re-examine them, and consider whether rules were appropriately modern. And at the same time they conceded that not all employers were aware of safeguards protecting from gender discrimination, as well as accepting that certain companies were not following these laws.
Whilst investigating the matter, a commons committee report also found that other female workers were asked to have manicures, colours in their hair and even wear revealing clothing.
Fast forward a little, and more recently this lead to the Government Equalities Office released guidelines, which set out what dress codes are acceptable. And whilst this certainly sound promising, I feel that there’s still a requirement for further equality legislation.
The government’s Acas website now has this to say on the matter:
“Reports in the media have highlighted the case of a temporary worker who was sent home without pay for refusing to wear high heels at work. Although staff can be dismissed for failing to comply with a dress code, employers should be cautious when operating a dress code in this way. Any dress code should not be stricter, or lead to a detriment, for one gender over the other. It has been reported that wearing high heels can cause physical pain and even harm, and therefore may lead to a successful claim of direct discrimination on grounds of sex.”
Which strikes me as a little odd. They do not come outright and state that a business cannot tell a woman what to wear on her feet, but that employers ought not to suggest wearing high heels as it may lead to unwanted court cases due to health and safety concerns. Go figure.
I also recently wrote about tattoo discrimination, and the shift towards tolerance in the workplace, which you might like to read about here.
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