But I don’t want to wear high heels to work
A young woman arrived at work on her first day as a temp receptionist all bright and enthusiastic. She was wearing smart business clothes, but when the supervisor saw that she was wearing flat shoes he ordered her to leave and come back in high heels.
The young woman said she didn’t own any high heels, so the supervisor said she would have to go out and buy a pair with heels two to four inches before she could start work. She refused and was sent home without pay.
The woman posted the incident on social media, questioning how high heels improved her ability to do her job, and argued she would be able to do her job better if she was able to walk properly.
Her temp work dried up. She started a petition to make it illegal to force women to wear high heels at work. More than 30,000 people signed it within weeks.
This incident happened recently in London, but Stacks Law Firm employment law expert Nathan Luke said in Australia the incident could amount to a breach of the law covering sex discrimination in the workplace.
“She could argue that men aren’t forced to wear high heels at work so it would be discrimination if an employer forced only women to wear high heels,” Mr Luke said.
“People might also have medical or religious reasons why they can’t wear high heels, so a blanket policy requiring women to wear high heels and taking disciplinary action against someone who refuses to wear them could be discriminatory.”
Australia doesn’t have specific workplace dress code laws, but employers are entitled to have a reasonable, non-discriminatory clothing policy.
“Employers certainly can insist on standards of clothing and appearance such as hair length and piercings working near machinery to satisfy health and safety requirements.
“But employers can require workers to present a professional appearance that complies with their company image in the workplace.
“For instance if you are working in sales in a fashion shop your boss wouldn’t want you wearing trackie dacks and thongs.
“But if an employer insists on a worker wearing tight or revealing clothes it is a different matter. The employer needs to state clearly what is expected in clothing standards before a person accepts the job.
“Employers have been fined for unfair dismissal when they sacked men who grew beards. They hadn’t stipulated beards were out,” Mr Luke said.
Employees who feel they have been unfairly treated should get expert legal advice. Equally, employers should make sure they know their legal position from an employment law specialist.