High heels and lipstick: MPs 'shocked' by sexist workplace dress codes

Jon Craig, Chief Political Correspondent

Employers who force women to wear stilettos and threaten to sack them if they refuse have been brought to heel by the Government.

In a Commons debate on high heels and workplace dress codes, Equalities Minister Caroline Dinenage condemned discriminatory dress requirements.

She revealed she had written to trade bodies about "outdated and sexist employment practices" and said the Government would not tolerate any form of discrimination.

During the three-hour debate, one MP told how her 27-year-old daughter had suffered a fractured foot after she was forced to wear high heels at work.

Another MP told of women being forced to wear full make-up, unbutton their blouses and of one woman who was told to dye her hair blonde.

The debate came after more than 150,000 signed a petition launched by receptionist Nicola Thorp, who was sent home from work when she refused to wear high heels.

At the TUC union conference last year, delegates backed a demand for a new law to ban workers being compelled to wear stilettos and launched a campaign on the dangers of "inappropriate footwear at work".

During the TUC's debate on the issue, Prime Minister Theresa May was urged to kick off her kitten heels and wear flat shoes to advance the cause of women in the workplace.

Replying to the Commons debate, Ms Dinenage told MPs: "Shod in heels or flats, we are collectively putting our foot down and attitudes are changing and this petition has brought that change very clearly into the public domain."

The minister said women should not be expected to wear things that cause discomfort or expense that a male colleague would not face.

She said: "Whether they wear high heels or not, it should be absolutely up to them, not to some outdated, dodgy 1970s workplace diktat.

"I must reiterate that the Government utterly condemns such dress requirements where their effects are discriminatory."

During the debate, Labour MP Gill Furniss said her daughter Emily was denied sick pay or compensation after suffering a metatarsal fracture while wearing high heels - the same injury that threatened to put David Beckham out of the 2002 World Cup.

She hit out at employers who force women to have to put up with "humiliating and degrading" dress codes, adding that some women are told they must wear a "full face" of make-up and are "even told which shade of red" lipstick to wear.

She said: "We know that in some professions, standing in high heels for a period of an eight-hour shift is the norm.

"Wearing heels in this way often causes foot pain, bunions, skin lesions, lower limb pathology and other related discomforts for the heel-wearer."

Ms Furniss added that while her daughter did not return to the retail work which forced her to wear heels "not everyone has that choice".

The debate was opened by Labour MP Helen Jones, chair of the Parliament's Petitions Committee, who said: "It is fair to say that what we found shocked us.

"We found attitudes that belonged more, I was going to say in the 1950s but probably the 1850s might be more accurate, than in the 21st century.

"And we found that women, especially young women in vulnerable employment, were exploited at work.

"Threatened with dismissal if they complained, they were forced to bear pain all day, or to wear clothing that was totally unsuitable for the tasks that they were asked to perform, or to dress in a way that they felt sexualised their appearance and was demeaning.

"But they had to put up with this if they needed a job."

Women in heels were expected to climb ladders, move furniture and walk for great distances. Some would burst into tears at work because their feet would bleed, she added.

By using Yahoo you agree that Yahoo and partners may use Cookies for personalisation and other purposes