A storm in a stiletto? What the high heels row means for employee dress codes

Ever since it hit the news that a receptionist, working via an agency at PwC in London, was sent home for refusing to wear stilettos, there has been a great deal of discussion about what does, and what doesn’t, constitute a fair employee dress code.

The case involved receptionist Nicola Thorp, who was contracted out to PwC via an agency named Portico, arriving at work in smart flat shoes only to be told to go and buy a pair of heels, or be sent home without pay.

It transpired that Portico had within their terms the requirement for female workers to wear heels of between 2 and 4 inches high when contracted out to a place of work.

The story resulted in a media storm after Ms Thorp wrote about her ‘unfair’ treatment on Facebook and set up an online petition which gained over 10,000 signatures, therefore forcing a review by Parliament.

Companies up and down the country that have dress codes for their employees will likely have sat up and taken note in the wake of this story.

Legally, companies are allowed to enforce a dress code – even one that is gender specific – so long as it is not discriminatory. Clearly, the above policy that required female staff members to wear high heels did not apply to male employees, and was thus deemed to fall foul of sexual discrimination legislation.

The advice to business owners/directors is to adopt an even-handed approach when it comes to their company dress code and be mindful of anything that could be discriminatory across any worker’s ‘protected characteristics’ (age, gender, nationality, religious beliefs or sexual orientation).

Following the ruling it may be sensible to review your dress code policy and ensure that it does not fall foul of discrimination or other employment laws. For further help and advice, or to speak to us about reviewing your company dress code or other employee policies, please get in touch with us.