High heels row: Petition for work dress code law rejected

Nicola ThorpImage copyright
PA

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Nicola Thorp said the decision to stop short of a law change was a “cop-out”

Calls to introduce a new law banning companies from telling women to wear high heels at work have been rejected by the government.

The Equalities Office said existing legislation was “adequate” but it would issue guidelines to firms this summer.

The issue was debated in Parliament in March after Nicola Thorp, who was sent home for wearing flat shoes, set up a petition with more 152,000 signatures.

Miss Thorp said the decision to stop short of a law change was a “cop-out”.

She began her petition after being told to leave a temp job for refusing to wear a “2-4in heel”.

A subsequent parliamentary investigation into heels and company dress codes found “widespread discrimination” in workplaces.

But Miss Thorp, an equality campaigner from London, said it was a “shame” the law would not be changed.

“It shouldn’t be down to people like myself,” she said. “The government should take responsibility and put it in legislation. I do think it is a little bit of a cop-out.”

Employers ‘flout’ laws

A government spokesperson said it was already against the law to discriminate on the grounds of gender – but that this could be made “clearer to employers”.

“It is unacceptable and is against the law,” the spokesperson said. “Dress codes must include equivalent requirements for both men and women.”

On Friday, the government said the law was “adequate” in a formal response to the petition and investigation.

It said companies should assess whether their rules are “relevant and lawful”.

“But we recognise that some employers lack awareness of the law or even choose to flout it,” the government said.

It added: “The Government Equalities Office will be producing guidance on dress codes in the workplace as a specific response to the Thorp petition and the issues it raises.”

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MP Maria Miller said there needs to be “effective enforcement of legislation”

It comes after an investigation by the Petitions Committee and Women and Equalities Committee found “potentially discriminatory dress codes are commonplace”.

Maria Miller, who chairs the Women and Equalities Committee, said she welcomed the decision to introduce new guidelines.

“This petition, and the committees’ inquiry, have reinforced the need for effective enforcement of legislation and for employers and employees to be aware of their obligations and rights,” she said.

“We welcome the commitments made by the government to increasing awareness of those rights.”

Ms Miller said she hoped the next government, which will be voted in at the election on 8 June, would “monitor how this changes women’s experiences of the workplace”.

Helen Jones, who chairs the Petitions Committee, added that Miss Thorp’s petition and the resultant investigation had done a “great deal” to raise awareness.

“The government has accepted our recommendation that it should be doing much more to improve understanding among employers and employees alike, to prevent discriminatory practices in the workplace,” she said.

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