It was recently reported that a 27 year old women working for a city firm was sent home for refusing to wear high heels. This report led many to debate whether the employer was reasonable in imposing a requirement to wear high heels, but the issue also highlights the legal pitfalls that employers face when imposing a dress code. Employment law expert Kerry Curd takes us through the legality of the situation.

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Dress codes are often used in situations where an employer wishes to communicate a particular corporate image or to advertise their brand.

In order for a dress code to be fair, it should be non-discriminatory and should apply to both men and women equally.  An employer can set up different dress codes for men and women as long as there is an equivalent level of smartness. For example, a policy could state ‘smart business wear’ but the nature of such clothing would be different depending on sex, such as, a shirt and tie.

So, is it illegal to force women to wear high heels to work? Potentially yes.

This is because in certain circumstances employers can dismiss staff who fail to live up to the reasonable dress code demands.  However, the high heel requirement is likely to be a step too far, in most situations, as it could be considered sex discrimination unless there is objective discrimination.  This is because the high heel requirement could be so that women look attractive and being attractive is not a work requirement for most types of employment.

Historically, a female has succeeded in a claim against her employer for sex discrimination where she was required her to wear a skirt to work and not trousers.  The employer lost because they could not demonstrate an objective justification for insisting on the skirt.

It is therefore not surprising that it has now been reported that the employer of the city worker’s that was sent home for not wearing high heels has changed its dress code policy and has agreed that women can wear flat smart shoes as an alternative to high heels.

Our suggestions:

  • Employers should be mindful of the comfort of their staff as well as the image that they present. Surely a smart flat shoe will be just as appropriate as a smart shoe with a heel in most situations?
  • Employers should be wary of sex specific dress requirements and review any written dress code policy in place.
  • Employers should be mindful of health and safety requirements before introducing uniform requirements.

This note reflects the law of the data publication which is 19th May 2016.  The content of this note for general information only.  Nothing in this note constitutes legal advice.  You should consult a suitably qualified lawyer on the specific problem or matter.

 For further information please do not hesitate to contact Kerry or another of our employment law experts