Women shouldn't be asked to wear high heels, make up at work, UK inquiry says

Published: January 25, 2017
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LONDON: Women shouldn’t be required to wear high heels or make up at work, British lawmakers said in a report on Wednesday, as they urged the government to do more to protect women from discriminatory dress codes.

The Petitions and Women and Equalities Committees said discriminatory dress codes remained widespread in Britain and the existing law — the Equality Act 2010 — did not fully protect employees from gender discrimination in the workplace.

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The Committees launched an inquiry into dress codes in the workplace following a petition launched last year by the London worker Nicola Thorp who was sent home for refusing to wear high heels at work.

“It’s not enough for the law to be clear in principle – it must also work in practice,” Helen Jones, chair of the Petitions Committee, said in a statement.

“It’s clear from the stories we’ve heard from members of the public that Nicola’s story is far from unique.

“The government must now accept that it has a responsibility to ensure that the law works in practice as well as in theory.”

Hundreds of women reported pain and long-term damage caused by wearing high heels at work for long periods, while others said they were required to dye their hair blonde, wear revealing outfits and constantly reapply make-up, the committees said.

They urged the government to change the law if necessary to make it more effective in protecting workers from gender discrimination and to substantially increase penalties for employers flouting the law.

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Sam Smethers of The Fawcett Society, a charity promoting women’s rights, said sexist dress codes objectifying women and making lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender workers feel excluded had no place in modern workplace.

“Employers need to focus on what drives productivity and enables their staff to feel part of a team. It isn’t a pair of high heels,” Smethers said.

Thorp’s petition calling for Britain to make it illegal for employers to require women to wear high heels at work has collected more than 150,000 signatures and will be debated in parliament on March 6.

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