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Employers can force women to wear high heels as Government rejects campaign to ban the practice

The Telegraph logo The Telegraph 21/04/2017 By Harry Yorke


Calls for a ban on “sexist” dress codes which force women to wear high heels to work has been rejected by the Government.

It means that employers can continue to insist that female employees wear heels, providing it is considered a job requirement and men are made to dress to an "equivalent level of smartness". 

New guidelines on dress codes are set to be issued in the summer following a public outcry over a temp worker being sent home after she refused to wear heels to work.

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But the Government has ruled out a change in the law because it believes the existing legislation is “adequate” and already prevents companies from gender-based discrimination.

It comes more than a year after Nicola Thorp was told to go home from work without pay, after she arrived at PriceWaterhouseCooper to work in a temporary receptionist role in flat shoes, but refused to comply with demands that she wear 2-4 inch heels.

Outraged, she launched a petition to tighten legislation on compulsory gendered uniforms, which gathered 152,400 signatures.

She was later called to present evidence before the Petitions and Women and Equalities Committees, during which MPs also heard that a black woman had been forced to chemically straighten her hair by an agency which provides temp workers to Harrods.

However, while the Government acknowledged that the awareness among workers and bosses of the law was patchy, it added that some employers “knowingly flout the law”.

Instead, the Government Equalities Office has called on all employers to review their dress codes and “consider whether they remain relevant and lawful”.

It also plans to produce new guidelines in the summer to improve workers’ awareness of their rights.

However, the chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, Maria Miller, said the Government had not gone far enough, adding that current 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,” she added.

"We welcome the commitments made by the Government to increasing awareness of those rights, and hope that the next Government will monitor how this changes women's experiences of the workplace."

Earlier in the year MPs had been told how women in heels were expected to climb ladders, move furniture and walk for great distances, while others were told to unbutton their blouses to entice male customers when they investigated the issue.

But the Government rejected calls by the committees for changes to tribunal rules and more in-depth monitoring of failed discrimination claims.

Helen Jones, who chairs the Petitions Committee, said: "This petition, and our inquiry, have already done a great deal to improve public awareness of the law.

"It is nevertheless very welcome that the Government has accepted our recommendation that it should be doing much more to improve understanding among employers and employees alike, to prevent discriminatory practices in the workplace.

The Government Equalities Office has been approached for comment.

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