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Temporary receptionist Nicola Thorp was sent home from her first day at work at PwC by Portico, the staffing agency that supplies workers to PwC, in December 2015 for refusing to wear heels. When Ms Thorpe refused she was sent home without pay.
A petition calling for a law to be implemented to prevent women from being forced to wear high heels at work was set up by Ms Thorpe in May 2016 and was signed by over 152,000 people.
Following the petition, MPs on the Women and Equalities Select Committee conducted an inquiry into workplace dress codes and published a report in January 2017. The inquiry highlighted cases where women were made to wear heels at work for roles that included carrying luggage, carrying goods up and down stairs, climbing ladders and walking long distances. It stated that it was still common practice to make women wear heels in employment which demonstrates that the Equality Act 2010 (‘the Act’) is not fully effective. The report called for the Government to review and amend legislation and increase fines for employers who breach it.
The Government responded to the report on 21 April 2017. It confirmed that the committee had revealed practices “in some industries which appear sexist, unacceptable and potentially unlawful”, however, it stated that employees already have a “scope for redress” against sex discrimination under the Act therefore rejecting legislative amendments and increased fines. The Act makes it illegal to implement a dress code that makes significantly more demands of female workers. To make the law clearer to employers and raise awareness, the Government will be publishing new guidance on work place dress codes in summer.
Employers are entitled to dismiss employees that do not uphold "reasonable" dress code demands provided such demands are considered a job requirement and men are made to dress to an "equivalent level of smartness". The managing director at Portico has ensured that its guidelines will be reviewed. PwC stated that it does not have specific dress guidelines for male or female employees and would be discussing Portico’s guideline with them.