City worker in footwear sexism dispute
  • 23rd May 2016
  • Article written by Louise Purcell
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A temporary receptionist working in the City, was allegedly sent home from work earlier this month because her shoes were too flat for work. She was allegedly asked by her Employer to go home and come back in footwear with heels of between 2 and 4 inches.

Many women working in the City have posted online photographs of themselves wearing flat shoes to work, in a show of solidarity with the receptionist and to make a stand against Employers with sexist dress codes.

Whilst it is not unlawful for Employers to have different dress codes for male and female workers per se, where, for example, there is an equivalent level of smartness required of Employees of both sex, Employers should avoid requiring female staff to wear high heels.  In order to avoid a finding of sex discrimination against them, Employers would need to be able show that the requirement for female staff to wear high heels could be objectively justified.  Employers would be unlikely to succeed in showing that the requirement could be objectively justified and as such, may face a finding of sex discrimination against them.  Any dismissal for failing to comply with a discriminatory requirement of the dress code would be likely to be an unfair dismissal, as well as sex discrimination. 

The case also raises health and safety issues, since there is now a wide body of fairly, undisputed evidence which suggests that wearing high heels is likely to cause lasting damage to the wearer’s feet, knees and back.  It is also widely accepted that wearing heels can be uncomfortable and even, painful.  Employees who are uncomfortable or in pain, are unlikely to be at their best in the workplace.

Whilst many women, may choose to wear high heels, it is probably best to leave the matter to the Employee’s personal choice.

If you would like advice on this or any other employment issue, please contact Louise Purcell on 01622 698001