On April 7, 2017, the BC Government issued a press release on having fulfilled its promise to ban mandatory high heels from BC workplaces. The change was made by amending section 8.22 of the Occupational Health and Safety Regulations (“OHS Regulation”), and is explained by WorkSafeBC’s recently adopted OHS Guideline G8.22Footwear regarding section 8.22 of the OHS Regulation.

The Guideline provides that “footwear must both allow the workers to perform their work safely and provide the protection required for the particular environment.” Employers must conduct an assessment of the risks present in their particular workplace and duties of the employee to determine what constitutes appropriate footwear in the circumstances. Factors that will be considered in making this assessment includethe risk of slipping, tripping, uneven terrain, ankle protection and foot support, and potential for musculoskeletal injury (s. 8.22(2), OHS Regulation). WorkSafe BC acknowledges that these factors are more prevalent when walking in high heels greater than 1.5 inches.

OHS Guideline G8.22 Footwear provides the following example:

… hospitality workers (e.g., servers, hosts, bus-people, and bartenders in bars, clubs, restaurants, or other hospitality venues) walk on different surfaces, including slippery surfaces and stairs, often while carrying food and drinks. With consideration to the factors referred to in section 8.22(2)(a), (b), (c), (e), and (f) [as noted above], high heels would not be appropriate footwear. A dress code requiring hospitality workers to wear high heels while serving, bussing, or hosting would violate section 8.22(2.1).

The amendment is not a total ban on high heels. Employers may permit employees who want to wear heels to continue to do so if, upon consideration of the factors under section 8.22(2) of the OHS Regulation, the employer determines that wearing heels does not pose a risk to an employee’s safety in the workplace.

While the amendment to the OHS Regulation is specifically directed at workplace safety, there is also a positive human rights consideration addressed by the changes given that men are typically not subjected to the same uncomfortable footwear expectation (or other gendered dress expectations) in many workplaces, particularly those in the hospitality sector. On that note, the Ontario Human Rights Commission recently published a policy position on sexualized and gender-specific dress codes, which addresses the gendered, and potentially discriminatory, nature of certain workplace dress code requirements, including high heels.

Although high-heeled shoes are but one element of dress expectations of women in certain BC workplaces, the safety and human rights concerns that the recent amendment helps ameliorate is a positive and welcome development in ensuring safe, fair (and comfortable) access to BC workplaces for all.