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British politicians want to speak to women who have been forced to wear high heels at work

Joseph McCormick June 11, 2016

MPs in the UK have launched an inquiry into the legality of forcing women to wear high heels at work after a woman was sacked in London for refusing to do so.

Nicola Thorpe, a temp worker from Hackney, East London, was sent home from a post at PricewaterhouseCoopers in December 2015 after Portico, the firm providing the staff, said she had to wear 2″ to 4″ heels.

Nicola Thorpe

On arriving at the job, which was provided by Portico on behalf of PwC, the 27-year-old said she was told she was required to wear shoes with a “2” to 4″ heel”.

Thorpe refused, asking whether male colleagues were required to wear the same heels, but was laughed at and sent home without being paid.

Following a backlash over the issue, including a petition which has now been signed by 142,000 people, the firm Portico said “with immediate effect all our female colleagues can wear plain flat shoes”.

Now MPs are launching an inquiry, as required because the official petition gathered over 100,000 signatures.

Women who have been in similar situations to Thorpe, to speak to the inquiry.

The deadline for comments by those who have been in the same situation is 10:00 on Thursday, 16 June.

The Government welcomed the inquiry and said nobody should be discriminated against based on gender.

Thorpe said at the time that she would not be able to wear the heels for a whole day, and asked if she could have permission to wear smart, flat shoes for her day at the Embankment office.

But she was told she would have to buy a pair of heels fitting the dress code following the incident, which took place in December.

Going on, Thorpe said: “I said ‘if you can give me a reason as to why wearing flats would impair me to do my job today, then fair enough’, but they couldn’t.

“I was expected to do a nine-hour shift on my feet escorting clients to meeting rooms. I said ‘I just won’t be able to do that in heels’.”

After posting about the incident on Facebook, Thorpe says she discovered other women who had been in the same situation.

“I was a bit scared about speaking up about it in case there was a negative backlash,” she added.

“But I realised I needed to put a voice to this as it is a much bigger issue.”

Thorpe now campaigns on the issue and has started a petition to have the law changed so that women can’t be forced to wear certain footwear.

Now that the petition has passed 10,000 signatures, the Government must respond.

Thorpe added: “I don’t hold anything against the company necessarily because they are acting within their rights as employers to have a formal dress code, and as it stands, part of that for a woman is to wear high heels.”

“I think dress codes should reflect society and nowadays women can be smart and formal and wear flat shoes.

“Aside from the debilitating factor, it’s the sexism issue. I think companies shouldn’t be forcing that on their female employees.”

PwC had told the BBC that it had been in talks with Portico over the dress code.

“PwC outsources its front of house and reception services to a third party supplier. We first became aware of this matter on 10 May, some five months after the issue arose,” the spokesman said.

“The dress code referenced in the article is not a PwC policy.”

Nicola Thorpe 2

Employers are able, under UK law, to dismiss workers who do not live up to “reasonable” dress codes, given that the staff members are given ample time to buy shoes and clothing.

It is legal for men and women to be given different dress codes, but there must be an “equivalent level of smartness”.

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More: heels, high heels, woman, Women

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