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Women can still be forced to totter on high heels at work

A move to make it illegal for UK company executives to demand that female employees wear high-heeled shoes at work dismissed by government

Heels and the workplace became an issue of some debate after Nicola Thorp, a receptionist at the accountancy and finance firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), was told she had to go home and would not be paid because she was wearing flat shoes. Ms Thorp was informed in December 2015 that she had to wear shoes with a heel two- to four-inches high to the PwC offices.

The temp worker started a petition online that collected more than 150,000 signatures. This led to a parliamentary debate; however, the government stated that there were already sufficient laws in existence to combat discrimination based on gender. Ms Thorp said this did not adequately deal with the situation she had presented.

The government then urged companies that have dress codes for the workplace to examine them and consider whether the rules were up to date, appropriate, and relevant for a modern workforce.

The government did concede that not all employers and their staff were fully aware of laws governing gender discrimination at work and accepted that some companies knowingly do not follow these laws; as a result, the Government Equalities Office now plans to release guidelines setting out acceptable dress codes to make the laws clearer and easier to comply with.

Commons committees had undertaken an investigation and presented a report on their discoveries, which included female workers being asked to have manicures, colour their hair and wear revealing or clingy clothes by their superiors.

Maria Miller, the chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, stated that achieving equality in places of work needed more than legislation for equality. She said the Thorp case highlighted that present legislation needed to be enforced more effectively and that both employees and employers needed to be fully aware of their rights and obligations.

She said she looked forward to the government raising awareness of rights in the workplace and the effect that this would have on women’s working experiences.

During the parliamentary discussion, MPs were informed that women were expected to wear heels when undertaking tasks such as moving furniture and large objects, climbing ladders, and walking long distances. Some women were asked to unbutton clothing and show cleavage to encourage male clients.

Helen Jones, the chair of the Petitions Committee, said that Ms Thorp’s petition and the subsequent inquiry had been very helpful in raising awareness of the gender discrimination legislation. She added that it was gratifying to see that the government recognised more needed to be done to increase understanding by both employees and employers and ensure discriminatory behaviour was eliminated from the workplace. She also eagerly anticipated the government honouring the commitments it made in response to the investigation.

The committees also asked for tribunal rules to be updated and requested that discrimination cases that had been dismissed were monitored in more depth; however, the government chose to dismiss these requests.

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