British companies forcing women to wear high heels and make-up are breaking the law, a parliamentary committee said on Wednesday.
No fewer than 150,000 people signed a petition against “outdated and sexist’’ dress codes started by London-based receptionist Nicola Thorp after she was sent home from work for wearing flat shoes, prompting the Women and Equalities Committee to investigate the issue.
Female employees at Thorp’s firm had been asked to follow a detailed make-up regime, regularly reapply make-up throughout the day, and to make sure they never had visible roots if their hair was dyed.
Thorp’s employer Portico even issued a colour palette to show which shades of nail polish were acceptable to wear in the workplace and required women to wear high heels between 2 and 4 inches 5-10 centimetres unless otherwise agreed with their bosses.
For its report released, the committee also reviewed medical evidence which showed that wearing high heels for extended periods of times can lead to health issues and chronic pain, and increase the risk of workplace accidents.
Portico’s managing director, Simon Pratt, told the committee it did not occur to him that the dress code, which has since been changed, could be illegal.
The government found that the Equality Act 2010 which prohibits this kind of gender discrimination is not fully effective in protecting workers.
It recommended a review of the law and potential amendments, an awareness campaign targeted at employers and workers, and a substantial increase in the penalties which can be imposed on discriminatory employers at tribunals.