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Work dress code law petition rejected by government

A petition calling on the government to introduce a new law which would ban companies from telling women to wear high heels at work has been rejected after being debated in Parliament.

Nicola Thorp set up a petition, which subsequently gained more than 152,000 signatures, after being sent home from her temp job for wearing flat shoes instead of a 2-4in heel. The parliamentary investigation that followed the petition uncovered widespread discrimination in workplaces regarding, in particular, female dress codes including high heels.

However, the Equalities Office claimed that the existing legislation relating to work dress codes was ‘adequate’ but they would issue further guidelines to firms in the summer. Miss Thorp said the decision to stop short of changing the law was a ‘cop-out’.

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She spoke to the BBC about Parliament’s findings; “It shouldn’t be down to people like myself… The government should take responsibility and put it in legislation. I do think it is a little bit of a cop-out.”

The Equalities Office is set to produce the guidelines in response to the petition and the issues raised in it but they have urged companies to look at the rules and assess whether they are relevant and lawful for them.

A government spokesperson said that although there are already laws in place, they could be made clearer; “Dress codes must include equivalent requirements for both men and women.”

The Women and Equalities Committee who called for the investigation welcomed the decision to introduce new guidelines. Chair of the committee, Maria Miller, said; This petition, and the committee’s inquiry, have reinforced the need for effective enforcement of legislation and for employers and employees to be aware of their obligations and rights”

Going forward, despite the general election, the committee will be keeping an eye on the way the next government deals with this issue. As it impacts the way women experience work and the initial petition has been hailed for the awareness it has raised of the way some women are treated in the workplace based on the dress codes they must adhere to, regardless of whether they are legal or not.

Until then, the only way to deal with issues of workplace discrimination, whether it is based on dress codes or not, is to go through the processes which are currently in place. This starts from making a complaint to your workplace HR department to taking legal action.

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