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Workplace Dress Codes up for Debate

Published 16 May 2016

There’s been plenty of discussion about whether an employer’s decision to send home a receptionist for refusing to wear high heels is really a step in the wrong direction.

The decision attracted widespread publicity and sparked much debate about sexism in the workplace.

It is reported that receptionist Nicola Thorpe was told to ditch her flats and get a pair of 2in to 4in heels when she turned up for work at a top London-based accountancy firm.

The 27-year-old is now said to be calling for a change to the law on dress codes at work, saying it is currently outdated and sexist.

Employers can enforce a dress code for a number of reasons, which include projecting the right corporate image, helping customers to identify members of staff or for health and safety reasons.

The code must avoid discrimination and apply to both men and women equally. Employees should be allowed to wear clothes that manifest their religion and the policy may state ‘business dress’ for women and that men ‘must wear a tie.’

The debate about workplace dress codes is usually a hot topic at this time of year with warmer weather – hopefully – on the way.

Many employers now take a more casual approach to how workers dress during summer, but it mainly depends on the nature of the business.

The claim that requiring women to wear high heels in the workplace is sexist is now likely to be debated in Parliament.

An online petition states: ‘It's still legal in the UK for a company to require female members of staff to wear high heels at work against their will. Dress code laws should be changed so that women have the option to wear flat formal shoes at work, if they wish. Current formal work dress codes are out-dated and sexist.’

The petition has attracted more than 134,000 signatures. Parliament considers all petitions that get more than 100,000 signatures for debate.

The Equality Act 2010 makes it unlawful for an employer to discriminate against employees because of their sex.

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