DISCRIMINATION

Canadian province makes it illegal for employers to demand women wear high heels at work

Employment experts say a broader discussion is needed about the pressures faced by women to spend more time and money on their looks than men

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 09 April, 2017, 2:15pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 09 April, 2017, 9:06pm

The provincial government in British Columbia, Canada, has amended workplace legislation to prevent employers to force women to wear high heels at work.

BC Green Party leader Andrew Weaver filed a private member’s bill in March “designed to prevent employers from setting varying footwear and other requirements based on gender, gender expression or gender identity”.

The most critical part of an employee’s footwear is that it is safe
Shirley Bond, minister for labour

Rather than adopting Weaver’s bill, the BC government instead amended footwear rules under the province’s 1996 Workers Compensation Act, which did not mention high heels.

“In some workplaces in our province, women are required to wear high heels on the job. Like most British Columbians, our government thinks this is wrong. That is why we’re changing this regulation to stop this unsafe and discriminatory practice,” said BC premier Christy Clark.

“[A mandatory high-heel dress code] is a workplace health and safety issue. There is a risk of physical injury from slipping or falling, as well as possible damage to the feet, legs and back from prolonged wearing of high heels while at work.”

The minister for labour, Shirley Bond, acknowledged Weaver for starting the process.

“I’d like to recognise and thank Dr Weaver,” she said. “This change will let employers know that the most critical part of an employee’s footwear is that it is safe. I expect employers to recognise this very clear signal that forcing someone to wear high heels at work is unacceptable.”

Amendments to the compensation act will “ensure that workplace footwear is of a design, construction and material that allows the worker to safely perform their work and ensures that employers cannot require footwear contrary to this standard”.

Employment experts say a broader discussion is needed about the pressures faced by women to spend more time and money on their looks than men, and the expectations in some industries that short skirts and lipstick are worn.

High heels’ seductive power over men ‘proven’ in scientific study

“When you think about dress and physical appearance, women face higher standards in a lot of cases than men,” Julie Nugent, vice-president of the Catalyst Research Centre for Corporate Practice told CTV news.

In May 2015, there was a backlash against the Cannes Film Festival when some women were reportedly barred from a film screening for not wearing high heels.