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What now for high heels and workplace dress code?

Jane Crosby
gender pay gap

Jane Crosby from law firm Hart Brown, advises companies to implement a dress code, following the failure of Government to introduce a law making it illegal for employers to require female staff to wear high heels at work.

It has recently been discussed in the news lately about Nicole Thorp, a temporary receptionist on the books of Portico arriving for work at PwC wearing flat shoes. She was sent home without pay for not complying with the dress code to wear high heels of between 2 and 4 inches. Rather than bring a tribunal claim for unfair or discriminatory treatment she decided to start a petition calling for the law to be changed in this area. Ms Thorp set up a petition on the Government website, calling for it to be illegal for employers to require female staff to wear high heels at work. The petition was successful in obtaining more than 150,000 signatures over 6 months. As a result of this petition the House of Commons Petitions Committee and the Women and Equalities Committee have recently published in January of this year a joint report “High heels and workplace dress codes”.

The Committee undertook an inquiry and heard evidence from Ms Thorp and others. The report concludes that employers who require women to wear high heels at work are “seriously failing in their duties towards their employees” and could be causing damage to their health who require women to wear high heels. The government published its response to this report on 20th April 2017. Despite the introduction stating that the government will work to ensure women are not held back in the workplace by outdated attitudes and practices the government has rejected any recommendations for the law to be changed. Instead they are supporting an approach based on more detailed guidance and awareness campaigns with the help of organisations such as ACAS.

Advice for employers on dress codes; Implement a dress code which is appropriate to your business while making it fair for both men and women.   (for example British Airways have recently allowed female cabin crew to wear trousers after a dispute in 2016). Don’t apply a dress code rigidly because there may be a good reason why certain people are unable to comply. Communicate to all your employees the reason why you are introducing a dress code – there may be a health and safety reason for why people need to wear certain clothing. Review the dress code regularly taking into account the perceived needs of workers. Distinguish between front office staff and back office roles. Although Nicola Thorp may not have achieved the result she wanted at least she was successful in opening up a debate about the issues involved with dress codes.

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