Government slammed for “cop out” response to dress code laws

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Sarah Biddlecombe
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The government has rejected a campaign calling for a ban on archaic dress codes which state employers can force women to wear heels to work.

This means that employers can continue to demand female staff wear heels, as long as they are considered a requirement of their role, and that men at the company are made to dress to an “equivalent level of smartness”.

The government refused to change the existing legislation on the grounds that it is “adequate” and already prevents companies from making any gender-based discrimination.

Instead, it will be issuing a new set of guidelines on dress codes over the summer.

The controversial move comes just over a year after a woman was sent home from work without pay for refusing to wear high heels. 

Nicola Thorp was dismissed on her first day as a temporary receptionist at PriceWaterHouseCooper because she refused to purchase a pair of two to four inch heels to replace the flat shoes she had turned up in.

Rightly furious, Thorp set up a petition to change the “sexist” dress code law, and rapidly gained more than 152,400 signatures.

However, despite giving evidence before the Petitions and Women and Equalities Committees in March, alongside a black woman who had been forced to chemically straighten her hair to work at Harrods, the petition has now been rejected.

The government will instead issue new guidelines over the summer with the aim of improving workers’ awareness of their rights.

A Government spokesperson told The Telegraph, “No employer should discriminate against workers on grounds of gender – it is unacceptable and is against the law. Dress codes must include equivalent requirements for both men and women.

"To make the law clearer to employers and raise awareness among employees, the Government will be producing new guidance on workplace dress codes.”

Unsurprisingly, the ruling has proved controversial, with Thorp telling the BBC it was “a cop out”.

"It shouldn't be down to people like myself," she said. "The government should take responsibility and put it in legislation.”

And in a statement, Maria Miller, the chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, described the current equality legislation as “not sufficient to achieve equality in practice”.

"This petition, and the committees' inquiry, have reinforced the need for effective enforcement of legislation and for employers and employees to be aware of their obligations and rights,” she added.

"We welcome the commitments made by the Government to increasing awareness of those rights, and hope that the next Government will monitor how this changes women's experiences of the workplace."

Images: iStock, RexFeatures