A London receptionist was sent home from work on her first day after refusing to wear high heels, the BBC reports.
When temp worker Nicola Thorp, 27, arrived at accounting firm PwC in December wearing smart flat shoes, she was told she had to wear shoes with a “two-inch to four-inch heel”.
When she refused and pointed out that male receptionists were not asked to do the same, she was laughed at and sent home without pay.
Portico, the outsourcing firm that gave Thorp the PwC assignment, said she had “signed the appearance guidelines”, but it will now review them.
PwC said the dress code was “not a PwC policy”.
Thorp said she was was told she should go and buy a pair of heels.
“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,” Thorp told BBC Radio London.
“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.’”
Thorp spoke to friends about what had happened, and after posting on Facebook realised that other women had found themselves in the same position.
“I was a bit scared about speaking up about it, in case there was a negative backlash,” she said. “But I realised I needed to put a voice to this, as it is a much bigger issue.”
Tnorp has since set up a petition calling for the law to be changed so women cannot be forced to wear high heels to work.
It has attracted more than 10,000 signatures.
Under English law, employers can dismiss staff who fail to live up to “reasonable” dress code demands, as long as they’ve been given enough time to buy the right shoes and clothes.
Employers can set up different codes for men and women, as long as there’s an “equivalent level of smartness”.
“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,” Thorp said.
“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.”
Simon Pratt, managing director at Portico, said it was “common practice within the service sector to have appearance guidelines”, which Thorp had agreed to.
“These policies ensure customer-facing staff are consistently well presented and positively represent a client’s brand and image,” Pratt said.
However, he said, the firm had “taken on board the comments regarding footwear and will be reviewing our guidelines”.
A PwC spokesman said: “PwC outsources its front-of-house and reception services to a third-party supplier. We first became aware of this matter on May 10, some five months after the issue arose.
“PwC does not have specific dress guidelines for male or female employees.”
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