Today’s news headlines included the story of a receptionist sent home from her first day of work after refusing to wear high heels. When Ms Thorp arrived at work in flat shoes, she claims that she was told that she needed to wear shoes with a “2-inch to 4-inch heel” and was required to go and purchase something more suitable. People laughed when she asked whether this rule also applied to men and stated that this demand was discriminatory. Ms Thorp’s duties included escorting clients to meeting rooms. When she refused to go out and buy a pair of high-heeled shoes and questioned how wearing flat shoes would hinder her ability to carry out her duties, she was sent home without pay.
Ms Thorp was working at the offices of PwC, who stated that the dress code was not an internal policy, but that of Portico, a third-party supplier to whom it outsources its front of house and reception services to.
Legally, employers can discipline or even dismiss staff who fail to adhere to a request to follow reasonable dress codes, as long as the appropriate procedures have been followed, and the staff member has been given enough time to change or buy suitable clothes. It is also permissible for employers to have different dress codes for men and women, but the rules should be equivalent and should not be more rigorous for one group than another. If an employee can show that an employer’s dress code treats one sex less favourably than another, this may amount to unlawful sex discrimination.