As a business, especially one that deals face to face with customers on a regular basis, it is important that staff look smart and professional as this gives off a great first impression and really sells your company on perceptive level.
So, you may or may not have heard of the recent case involving an agency worker, Nicola Thorp and her battle in company footwear, but it is one that seems to be causing quite a stir in the personnel world and has set doubt in the minds of companies regarding what they can and can’t require staff to dress in.
Basically, Miss Thorp was an agency worker based in London as a receptionist at PwC’s offices. The role of her job was to meet and greet clients, escort them to meeting rooms and generally be the first port of call to customers. One day Miss Thorpe was approached by one of her supervisors who had asked her to go home and return back to work in 2 – 4 inch heels which would be ‘more professional’ than the flat shoes she was wearing which were ‘not appropriate’ workplace attire. According to Miss Thorp, she refused to do this as she believed the request to be ‘sexist and discriminatory’ pointing out the fact that men would allowed to wear flat shoes. She was then apparently laughed at and told that if she weren’t to go home and change her footwear, she would be sent home immediately … and that is exactly what happened.
An interesting case in the eyes of HR and does in fact pose the question, ‘Can female staff be required to wear high heels?’ The truth is, there are no laws that cover standard of dress in the workplace meaning that employers can set their own rules, as long as they are reasonable and not discriminative in any way.
Though there is nothing to stop you in a legal sense from having these rules, try to consider other aspects when deciding them such as Health and Safety (high heels can increase chances of tripping hazards), employees health and wellbeing (high heels are typically bad for females posture and can cause heath issues) and employees personal preference (females may not like to wear high heels). Forcing someone to wear something they are uncomfortable in may increase chances of lower working morale and lower productivity. Therefore why not enforce a smart footwear policy, insisting that they are of a neutral colour and that they are kept in a good, clean state of repair.
With regards to the success of Ms Thorp’s battle, she launched an online petition to make it illegal for companies to force women to wear high heels in the workplace and successfully managed to attain thousands of signatures and it is now going to be investigated by MP’s by looking at what the problem is, what the law says and what can be done to make it better. Details of this are yet to be announced but we will update on any further progress.