'Cop out': Anger as Government rejects law change on wearing high heels at work

Jonathan Mitchell, Sean Morrison
Nicola Thorp led the petition after being sent home from work for not wearing high heels: PA

A woman who was sent home from work after refusing to wear high heels has described the government’s decision to reject a petition against sexist dress codes as a “cop-out”.

Nicola Thorp’s incident attracted global attention when she was sent home without pay after arriving to work as a corporate receptionist in flat footwear.

Since then, 152,000 people signed a petition launched by Ms Thorp last year calling for a ban on dress codes that force women to wear high heels.

Parliament debated whether to introduce the ban in March, but the Equalities Office said on Friday that the law as it stands is “adequate”.

Ms Thorp branded the decision as a “cop-out”, adding that a change in legislation “shouldn’t be down to people like myself.”

But the actress, who was told to leave her temp job for refusing to wear 2-4 inch heels, said that – as the law is not changing – there needs to be bigger penalties in place.

She told the Standard: “Well, if the government say the law is good enough, we need to test it.

She added: “There is not currently enough case law for women taking employers to court over dress code, and that needs to change.

“And there at least needs to be bigger penalties for employers who flout the laws.”

Ms Thorp welcomed the government’s pledge to publish new guidelines on company dress codes in the summer, but added: “more still needs to be done.”

Ms Thorp launched a petition last year to bring to an end 'sexist' dress codes (Shutterstock)

She said: “What is really positive about the outcome is they [the government] are going to enforce the laws that are already in place.

“I argue that the laws that already exist are not enough. There is still much more than needs to be done. A law is only as good as those who enforce it.

“I understand that this isn’t top of the list, and going into the election there are other things on peoples’ minds. But women’s rights and equality needs to be at the forefront of everyone’s minds.

“I now need to make sure that a focus remains on this. What has been achieved so far is good. More people are becoming aware of their rights, but this is not the end.”

Ms Thorp had been called before the parliamentary committee, during which MPs heard evidence of apparent sexism in workplaces across the country.

A black woman working at Harrods told the committee she had been forced to chemically straighten her hair.

The report reads: “We are clear that the law to deal with this sort of discrimination is adequate, but we recognise that some employers lack awareness of the law or even choose to flout it, taking advantage of reluctance by employees to take action when they feel discrimination has occurred.”

It added: “The Government takes this issue very seriously and will continue to work hard to ensure women are not held back in the workplace by outdated attitudes and practices.”

The Government insisted that companies cannot discriminate between men and women.

A spokesman said: “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."