Following Nicole Thorp’s petition, the Government has rejected calls to make it illegal if employers insist that women wear high heels at work, saying that there are already laws protecting women at work. The question is: are our laws adequate?
It’s unlawful for employers to discriminate directly by treating an employee less favourably because of sex. Having a different dress code for men and women would not in itself be discriminatory but the same level of smartness must apply to both sexes. Otherwise men or women could be treated less favourably because of sex. Making women wear high heels at work would usually go beyond an equivalent level of smartness.
It’s also unlawful for an employer to discriminate indirectly by applying a provision, criterion or practice that applies to all employees but disadvantages employees of a particular sex.
Our equality laws do therefore protect women who are made to wear high heels at work.
The problem I think is something else. It’s that enforcing the laws isn’t easy and has become a lot harder since the introduction of employment tribunal fees back in 2013. There are now far less people bringing discrimination claims.
Bosses who still don’t get it, sadly, have less to fear.