8th December 2017 at 2:45 pm #599
I’m a temp. Is my agency allowed to insist that I wear high heels?
8th December 2017 at 2:56 pm #600
My name’s Nicola Thorp. I’m an actress, writer and campaigner.
Technically, temp agencies can’t insist that you wear high heels. But temp agencies often get away with it because it’s a bit of a grey area of the law in practice.
After what happened to me, I’ve spent the last year campaigning for the government to change the law. I want it to be clear that agencies making women wear high heels is illegal.
This is what happened.
I’m an actress and sometimes I supplement it with temp jobs. I normally go in smart: suit jacket, suit trousers, and so on.
In 2015 I was working in a temp receptionist job where all female employees had to wear high heels.
One day, I came in wearing flats and they asked me to go out and buy a pair of heels.
The law says that dress codes aren’t allowed to be harsher for women than for men, so I said no. I didn’t see why I wouldn’t be able to do my job in flats.
I was asked to leave, and the temp agency I was working for told me I wouldn’t be working for them again. That agency – Portico – were actually notorious for their dress codes at the time, and it wasn’t the first time I’d got into trouble for not adhering to ‘unnecessarily feminine’ dress codes – short skirts, makeup, and so on.
I called Citizens’ Advice and they explained that the law doesn’t say ‘an employer can’t force a temp to wear high heels.’ It says ‘you can’t have a dress code that’s harsher on women than men’.
They actually said that the agency can expect you to wear heels, because they’re also expecting men to wear smart shoes, so it’s not harsher.
My argument was that even though my shoes were flat, they were still smart! So they were being harsher on woman than men – which is against the law.
So when I went home, I posted something on Facebook about it. That got a massive response which made me realise I wasn’t the only person going through this experience.
So I decided to campaign to get the law changed and to shine a light on all forms of workplace discrimination. In May the following year I set up a petition on the government website which read:
‘make it illegal for a company to require women to wear high heels at work’ and posted on Facebook about it.
At the time I had no idea how big it would get, and that I wouldn’t be allowed to work for that company again. So that was a risk! (Later on I did actually work for another temp agency, which showed that I was actually good at my job, regardless of what I looked like or what I was wearing).
At the time I certainly didn’t expect the petition to get too many signatures. But in the space of 72 hours it got hundreds, and soon thousands. It showed that this kind of thing happens to women on a daily basis.
At first the government just responded with a simple two line response that said:
‘Company dress codes must be reasonable and must make equivalent requirements for men and women. This is the law and employers must abide by it.’
That made me laugh. I thought ‘well that may very well be the law, but the law is only as good as it is in practice, not in theory’. I felt like it wasn’t actually addressing the issue: the law just isn’t working.
After all this, in early April 2017 we heard that the government had rejected the petition.
They decided not to change the law.
As regards my situation, I don’t yet have a definite outcome, and yet I lost my job over the whole thing.
So I wish I could say to you that no, your agency isn’t allowed to force you to wear high heels, but unfortunately it’s still a grey area.
After this happened, I set up a place on my website for people to contact me directly. A lot of people have done so already! I’m working with the Equalities Commission on this so I might be able to help.
So if this has happened to you, my best recommendation is to contact me directly and tell me about it here: https://www.whoareyouwearing.co.uk/share-your-story
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