On 6 March 2017, the House of Commons discussed an e-petition relating to dress codes and high heels in the workplace. Speakers included Helen Jones, chair of the Petition Committee, who recently published a joint report with the Women and Equalities Committee, “High heels and Workplace dress codes”, following the petition signed over 150,000 people calling for it to be illegal for employers to require female employees to wear high heels at work. So - is it really true? Employers of the 21st century are really making their female employees wear heels….and even make-up?

Helen Jones spoke of a female employee Nicola Thorp, who worked for an agency Portico. Nicola was sent for a temporary job as a receptionist for PWC when she was told that she not only had to wear heels (and the ones that she showed on her first day were not high enough), there existed a colour chart from which she was permitted to paint her nails. Further, it was specified that they should wear a minimum of foundation, powder and light blusher; tights also needed to be ‘skin’ colour. Nicola was sent home unpaid, for refusing to go and buy higher heels.

The petition goes on to give examples of cases of thousands of women, forced to wear high-heels to the point where they could not walk at the end of the day and worse, even when they were pregnant. Cabin crew members complained that they had to wear full faces of heavy make-up, including the same colour lipstick to avoid disciplinary… Female sales people at Christmas, would be asked to unbutton one more shirt button for better sales.

While these stories sound like something you would expect only women of the 1950s to have complained of, the e-petition voices the complaints of women of today in 2017 experiencing such sex discrimination. Caroline Dinenage, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Women and Equalities responded to the petition promising that the government intends to take strong action to tackle this thinking way by employers.

With ACAS, the government is currently preparing a guidance for all employers, including explaining the long term medical problems such as altering balance, reducing flexions in the ankle, weakening calf muscles, stress fractures and ankle sprains - problems men simply do not have to face due to their company dress code policy.

Companies should always have equality at the forefront of their minds when considering uniform, dress-code policies and whether any restrictions contained therein, could be discriminatory in anyway.
For further information, please contact Koichiro Nakada – Head of Japan Business Group (koichiro.nakada@lewissilkin.com) and Yoko Nakada - Senior Associate, Deputy Head of Japan Business Group (yoko.nakada@lewissilkin.com).
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