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Equalities Minister calls on employers to stop 'sexist' dress codes in workplace

Employers must review their dress codes to reform any offices retaining a "dodgy 1970s workplace diktat", the Equalities Minister has said.

Caroline Dinenage spoke out against "outdated and sexist" employment practices uncovered after more than 150,000 people signed an e-petition to outlaw discriminatory workplace dress codes.

London receptionist Nicola Thorp launched the petition last year when she was sent home from work after she refused to wear high heels.

A subsequent investigation by the Petitions Committee and the Women and Equalities Committee found that women have been told to dye their hair and wear revealing clothes.

Ms Dinenage said she had written to key trade bodies about these "outdated and sexist employment practices, saying that women should not be expected to wear things that cause discomfort or expense when male colleagues did not have to.

During a Westminster Hall debate on the issue on Monday night, Ms Dinenage said: "W e have had anti-discrimination laws in this area for more than 40 years, yet it is a safe bet that these sort of dress codes have existed under the radar, with female employees putting up with discrimination because that is the way things are.

"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."

Ms Dinenage added: "Whether they (women) wear high heels or not, it should be absolutely up to them, not to some outdated, dodgy 1970s workplace diktat.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."

Labour MP Gill Furniss said her daughter was denied compensation when she suffered a fractured foot after she was forced to wear high heels at work for lengthy period.

Ms Furniss (Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough) said: " Wearing heels in this way often causes foot pain, bunions, skin lesions, lower limb pathology and other related discomforts for the heel-wearer.

"In fact, my own daughter suffered from a metatarsal fracture, which is more commonly affiliated with sports injuries, when she was forced to wear high heels in a former retail job.

"Quite literally adding insult to injury, she was denied any compensation or sick pay as she wasn't on the payroll for long enough. "

Labour MP Helen Jones, chairwoman of the Petitions Committee, said they had heard evidence of "discriminatory" and "totally reprehensible" attitudes towards women.

She said: "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 ."

Women in heels were expected to climb ladders, move furniture and walk for great distances, while others were told to unbutton their blouses to entice male customers, Ms Jones added.

Shadow equalities minister Paula Sherriff suggested gender-based dress codes make women more vulnerable to sexual harassment in the workplace.

Ms Sherriff also claimed the introduction of employment tribunal fees of up to £1,200 had stopped many women from seeking recourse through the courts.

She said: "How on earth can this Government claim to show any commitment to tackling sexist and discriminatory working practices when they have effectively priced women out of their own employment rights?"

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