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Fair HR Policies: Is Your Company Dress Code Discriminatory?

Fair HR Policies: Is Your Company Dress Code Discriminatory?

Company dress codes have come into the spotlight after an online petition, set up by a receptionist who was sent home from work for not wearing high heels, received over 110,000 signatures of support in under 48 hours.

Nicola Thorp, an actress who was taking temp work as a receptionist at PwC, was told by outsourcing agency Portico to buy two to four inch-high heels if she wanted the work.

She complained saying the rule was discriminatory, but was told if she did not wear them she could go home without pay. This led Ms Thorp to set up the online petition urging the Government to make it illegal for firms to force women to wear high heels to work.

"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," Ms Thorp, who had arrived at the reception wearing flats, explained.

Reflecting on the success of the petition Ms Thorp comments: “I began my petition against high heels because it is blatant sexism that an employer has a right to impose a discriminatory dress code on women. But I also think that forcing women to paint their faces is wrong. At many of the sites I have worked at, I would have been sent home if I had turned up without makeup on”.

“The bigger debate is about how women are viewed in the workplace, and to what extent an employer should dictate a woman’s appearance. It’s fantastic that this has created a real debate, and that women feel they have a voice that will be listened to. Now that companies across the UK have seen this campaign, and the embarrassment it has caused to Portico, perhaps they will serious review where they stand on the issue”.

Employment policy changed

Following the incident PwC stressed that it does not expect women to wear heels or follow a dress code, and said it outsourced reception services to Portico.

Portico has now changed its policy. A spokesperson for PwC comments: "We are pleased that Portico has responded to our concerns and is updating its uniform policy. PwC places a great deal of emphasis on providing a progressive working environment for all of our people."

Unions, health experts and MPs hit out against heels

Frances O'Grady, general secretary of the TUC, said that any dress code which includes high heels “reeks of sexism” adding that “high heels, should be a choice not a requirement”

Various health concerns have also been raised about the wearing of heels. Tony Redmond, a biomechanics expert at Leeds University, warns that that regularly wearing heels increases the mechanical wear and tear around the knee joints, which might increase the risk of osteoarthritis.

The College of Podiatry has also warned employers not to make staff wear high heels as they can cause ankle sprains, bunions, back problems and tight calves.

A number of MPs have signed Ms Thorp’s petition, including Margot James and Caroline Dinenage. Speaking to the Daily Telegraph, Tulip Siddiq, MP for Hampstead and Kilburn, said:

“The idea that in 2016 a woman can be sent home from a professional job for daring to not wear high heels is a preposterous as it is archaic. The fact that this sort of overt sexism still bubbles under the surface of our professions is demeaning and unacceptable”.

Is it legal to make women wear high heels at work?

Under current UK employment law, companies are able to demand that female members of staff wear heels and makeup as part of their dress code.

Employment law advice for businesses

Our Employment team provides advice on the employment aspects of all major business decisions. For advice on creating fair and compliant human resource policies and practices please contact one of experienced employment solicitors today on 01895 207892 or email employment@ibblaw.co.uk. Alternatively please complete our online form.