Petition calls for the Government to make it illegal to require women to wear heels at work
News headlines have abounded about a 27-year-old woman sent home from a City firm for refusing to wear high heels.
And social media has been awash with images of a Canadian waitress’s bloodied feet after being told she must do the same.
But is forcing someone to wear high heels at work legal?
After the first incident, Nicola Thorp started a petition demanding “women have the option to wear flat formal shoes at work” and calling on the Government to change “dress code laws”.
However, these laws are a bit ambiguous. Employers generally have the right to enforce dress codes at work if it’s a “reasonable request.”
An employer can tell their employees to dress in a certain way at work and can treat men and women differently, as long as they don’t treat one sex less favourably.
A dress code is more likely to be enforceable if the employer can show it is necessary – in this case, Thorp’s employers, the Portico temp agency, argued that she needed to wear heels as a corporate receptionist meeting and greeting the public.
But even if there may be no legal grounds to argue, the case “reeked of sexism”, said Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the TUC. She added: “High heels should be a choice, not a requirement.”
There could also be legal hazards to take into consideration and Human Rights grounds – the right to freedom of expression may include the right of an individual to express themselves by means of the way they dress.
Thorp told BBC Radio London: “I was expected to do a nine-hour shift on my feet escorting clients to meeting rooms. I said ‘I just won’t be able to do that in heels’.” She said she asked the agency to give her a reason why fashionable flats were not suitable, “but they couldn’t.”
At last count, her petition had received more than 110,000 signatures. This surpasses the 100,000 needed for Parliament to consider it for a debate.
Portico has since said it would be changing their dress code policy “with immediate effect”.