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Government stance on workplace dress codes 'a cop-out' says heels row woman

A woman who was sent home after she refused to wear high heels at work has branded the Government's response to calls for reform a "cop-out".

Nicola Thorp launched a petition pressing for changes in the law after she turned up at PwC in flat shoes, but was told she had to have a 2in-4in (5cm-10cm) heel.

The Government has announced that new guidelines on dress codes are expected to be issued in the summer.

But it stressed that it was already illegal for company bosses to force women to wear high heels at work and insisted laws already in place were "adequate" to deal with discrimination.

Ms Thorp said that while it was against the rules to discriminate, the law still allows employers to set different rules for the way men and women dress.

She told the Press Association: "It's a shame they won't change legislation.

"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."

Ms Thorp's petition attracted more than 152,400 signatures asking for it to be made illegal for companies to require women to wear specific footwear for their jobs.

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."

But Ms Thorp, an actor, said firms should not be able to distinguish between men and women.

She said: "As it stands, the Equalities Act states an employer has the right to distinguish between a male and female dress code as long as they are not deemed to be treating one sex more or less favourably.

"Unfortunately, because of intrinsic sexism and the way in which business works in the UK, when employers are allowed the freedom to decide what is fair and unfair it tends to be women that lose out."

The Government has called on all employers with dress codes to review them and "consider whether they remain relevant and lawful".

It accepted that awareness among workers and their bosses is patchy and some employers "knowingly flout the law".

An investigation by Commons committees found that women workers have been told by their bosses to dye their hair, have manicures and wear revealing clothes.

Maria Miller, who chairs the Women and Equalities Committee, said: "Equality legislation is not sufficient to achieve equality in practice.

"This petition, and the committees' inquiry, have reinforced the need for effective enforcement of legislation and for employers and employees to be aware of their obligations and rights.

"We welcome the commitments made by the Government to increasing awareness of those rights, and hope that the next Government will monitor how this changes women's experiences of the workplace."

MPs investigating the issue heard that 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.

The Government rejected calls by the committees for changes to tribunal rules and more in-depth monitoring of failed discrimination claims.

Helen Jones, who chairs the Petitions Committee, said: "This petition, and our inquiry, have already done a great deal to improve public awareness of the law.

"It is nevertheless very welcome that the Government has accepted our recommendation that it should be doing much more to improve understanding among employers and employees alike, to prevent discriminatory practices in the workplace.

"I very much hope that the next Government will honour the commitments made in the response to our report."

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