High heels discrimination

June 23, 2016

High Heels Discrimination

High heels have been hitting the headlines recently, so we take a look at what you need to know when it comes to footwear and your business.


As we can see in this article from Personnel Today, a lady named Nicola Thorp was sent to a temporary job at PwC through an agency named Portico last year, and was told on her first day she would need to wear 2 to 4 inch heels as part of her uniform. After a supervisor had explained that heels were part of the female dress code, Thorp challenged the code and asked why men were able to wear flat shoes, but she was not.

The agency agreed with the supervisor and the ‘personal appearance guidelines’ to ensure staff were dressed consistently.

However, a PwC spokesman added: “PwC outsources its front of house and reception services to a third-party supplier. We first became aware of this matter on 10 May, some five months after the issue arose. The dress code referenced in the article is not a PwC policy.”

Within the Personnel Today article, they also featured Stephen Simpson from XpertHR to explain the legal concerns for employers when it comes to dress codes.

He said:

It is true that there is no law that deals specifically with workplace dress codes for women.

It is also true that case law says that employers can have different dress rules for men and women if as a whole they apply the same standards to both sexes. An employer can of course require a man to wear a tie, without requiring a woman to do the same.

However, an employer that strictly imposes a dress requirement must be able to justify the rule. The employer must firstly be prepared to show that the rule has a legitimate aim – for example, to project a corporate image to clients.

Secondly and crucially, the rule must be applied proportionately. It is strongly arguable that a cultural shift and evidence of potential health problems mean that it is now disproportionate to send someone home without pay for wearing flat shoes.

In this case, Thorp went on to set up a petition, which now stands at 141, 603 (at time of writing), which calls for it to be made illegal for companies to enforce female employees to wear heels. As it has reached the 100,000 mark, it means it will be considered for debate in parliament.

But it’s not just the UK where this issue is causing a stir. A photo and social media post of a ladies bleeding feet after being forced to wear heels for her shift has gone viral in Canada, and has made its way around the world, as the topic of compulsory foot wear becomes a big issue.

The lady in question lost a toenail during her shift at a Joey Restaurants in Edmonton, Canada, leaving her shoes covered in blood, but was still told she would be required to wear heels at her shift the following day.

Joey Restaurants released a statement to say they were “upset” to see the post, and would be talking to the employee. They also went on to say “There is no minimum height when it comes to our shoe policy. Shoes range from black dress flats, wedges and heels. For those employees wearing heels, we require the heel height to be no higher than 2.5’.”

And the topic doesn’t seem to stop at work wear attire. Even the Cannes Film Festival faced backlash last year for turning away women who were not wearing high heels, as it was not ‘red carpet policy’.


So where does this leave employers?

Well, as it currently stands, employers have the right to be able to have dress rules for their employees, as outlined in their contract or handbook.

It is within normal limits to also state that a breach in uniform policy/dress code can result in disciplinary action or even dismissal.

Men and women can have different dress codes as long as they are the same levels of smartness for both sexes. (This has also become a huge talking point, with high heels for females being compared to ties for males).

So currently, employers can still request that ladies wear high heels as part of their uniform if it complies to an overall image being conveyed by both sexes. However, this could soon change, and as Sajid Javid has stated, it can be impractical to enforce a woman to wear high heels.


Does your dress code include heels? What are your thoughts on the matter?


If you feel you need more advice regarding this issue, why not talk to the experts at HELP? We offer straight forward and friendly advice on your terms. Call one of the team today on 01543 431050.

This post is in: Employment Law Blogs

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