It’s 2016, so it would be pretty ridiculous if employers were able to specify that their female staff wore high heels, wouldn’t it? Well that appears to be the case, and one receptionist – who was sent home from work for not adhering to her employer’s ‘two-to-four-inch heel’ policy – is fighting back.
As Personnel Today reports, in December last year Nicola Thorp was sent by an outsourcing company to work as a receptionist for consulting firm PwC. But the 27-year-old was sent home on her very first day, because she was wearing flat shoes and thereby breaking the company’s “female grooming policy.”
Her supervisor informed her that the dress code stipulated female employees had to wear two- to four-inch heels, and that if she did not go out and buy some she would be sent home. Highlighting the fact that male staff were able to wear flat shoes, Thorp refused and complained on grounds of discrimination.
Following the incident, Thorp set up a petition calling for it to be illegal for UK companies to enforce a high-heel policy on female staff. At the time of writing, the petition has gathered more than 135,00 signatures, meaning it will now be debated in parliament.
A spokesman from PwC has explained that the issue was not the result of PwC’s policies, but of Portico’s, the outsourcing company they used: “We first became aware of this matter […] five months after the issue arose. The dress code referenced in the article is not a PwC policy.”
Meanwhile, a Portico spokesman spoke out in defence of the company’s “personal appearance guidelines,” stating: “These policies ensure staff are dressed consistently and include recommendations for appropriate style of footwear for the role.”
But following a consultation period with its clients and team members, Portico recently announced that its dress code would no longer have a high-heel code for women, with immediate effect.
In support of this decision, PwC stated: “We are pleased that Portico has responded to our concerns and is updating its uniform policy.”
It remains to be seen how this debate will pan out in parliament, but it’s likely to raise some important questions about professional dress codes in general. How important do you think a dress code is in today’s modern workplace?