A House of Commons committee has been looking into workplace dress rules, this comes after a worker at an accountants in London, started an e-petition wanting a change in the law to stop employers making women have to wear high heels at work. The petition collected almost 150,000 signatures.
Nicola Thorpe organised the High Heels – Online Petition after her experience of arriving at work wearing flat shoes, only to be told she must go and purchase some high heels. Ms Thorpe refused to do so and was told to go home.
The House of Commons Petitions Committee and Women and Equalities Committee subsequently launched a joint inquiry into workplace dress code and discrimination. They listen to the experiences of both Ms Thorpe and Ruth Campion, an ex-British Airways cabin crew worker.
Ms Campion said that the strict dress codes she was expected to follow during her time at British Airways was, “a bit dehumanising and humiliating to be made specifically to wear items of uniform that sexualised my appearance or enhanced my sexuality”.
Ms Campion also told the committee that she was only allowed to wear skirts, not trousers, and was not allowed to wear cardigans at work, as her employer considered them to be “a bit frumpy and not very attractive”. There were also strict rules on make-up and nails, Ms Campion said: “A couple of times I was told that I had to reapply my lipstick and I wasn’t wearing enough make-up”.
The committee heard that Ms Campion was always expected to be wearing heels, even on the way to work, to her hotel and on board the plane.
Committee reviews like this can result in certain recommendations being made to government.
The Equality Act does already protect employees against unlawful sex discrimination at work. However, the findings of the committee could lead to an amendment being made in the Code of Practice about high heels.
Employers are allowed to enforce dress codes, and this can include different dress codes for male and female staff, provided that they are comparable. When it comes to something like high heels, there is not a similar dress code for men, so this could possibly be indirect unlawful discrimination if the employer cannot justify it.
Employers should be looking to review their workplace dress codes to make sure that they are relevant and fair. It may be important to ensure that all start project the right image of the company, but one gender should not be disadvantaged.
The committees are planning to hear more evidence on this issue in due course.