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Portico changes appearance guidelines after high heels row

Receptionist Nicola Thorpe, 27, from Hackney was sent home without pay after refusing to go out and buy a new pair of heels

Corporate reception firm, Portico, has U-turned on its appearance guidelines, after insisting that an employee wear 2-4 inch heels when she arrived to work at finance company PwC.

Receptionist Nicola Thorpe, 27, from Hackney was sent home without pay after refusing to go out and buy a new pair of heels. In response, she created a petition calling for a change in employment law to prevent women being forced to wear high heels to work.

The petition currently has over 120,000 signatures and has sparked fierce debate on social media. Following the backlash Portico has announced that with “immediate effect” all female employees can wear plain flat shoes.

As the petition has surpassed 100,000 signatures, parliament must consider it for debate.

Peter Mooney, Head of Consultancy for employment law expert, ELAS, says: “Though there is no law that deals solely with the dress code of female employees, case law states that employers may have different dress codes for men and women as long as standards between the sexes are maintained.

“Employers must be able to justify their reasons for internal dress codes, for example an organisation looking to project a professional image in a client facing role would be justified in expecting a smarter dress code.

“However, context is key, and any dress code must be reasonable and proportionate to what the business is trying to achieve.

“Health and safety regulations must be taken into account when adopting a dress code policy. For example, an employee would not be expected to wear a tie around dangerous machinery.

“If there is evidence that a nine hour shift escorting clients could have negative effects on both the health and productivity of the employee if high heels were mandatory, it would not be reasonable to send an employee home for refusing to pay for high heels as the dress code is no longer proportionate to the image of the business. So while a smart dress code is reasonable in the right circumstances, an employee’s wellbeing must be considered at all times to mitigate any negative impacts on work productivity.”

Peter Mooney, head of consultancy at ELAS Business Support

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