B.C. premier promises action for women forced to wear high heels on the job

VANCOUVER — Legislation that would make it illegal to require women to wear high heels on the job in British Columbia is getting support from Premier Christy Clark.

“In some workplaces in B.C., women are still required to wear high heels on the job,” Clark wrote on her verified Facebook page. “This isn’t just old-fashioned in 2017, it’s unacceptable.”

Clark says she backs the intent of a private member’s bill introduced last week by B.C.’s Green party leader, Andrew Weaver. The bill he introduced on International Women’s Day would prevent employers from setting footwear requirements based on gender.

The issue isn’t about fashion choices but health and safety, Weaver said in an interview Monday.

High heels can increase the risk of slipping and falling on kitchen floors or restaurant stairs, and the footwear can create health issues like back problems, bunions and bloody feet, he said.

“It’s a no brainer. I can’t think of a compelling argument anywhere to say restaurant owners should be allowed to require women to wear high heels in a restaurant,” Weaver said. “It just doesn’t make sense.”

The legislation wouldn’t ban heels from all workplaces, but an employer requiring staff to wear them must have the same requirement for all staff — male and female.

“You can have a dress code, but the dress code must apply to all,” Weaver said, comparing the new regulations to rules that require everyone on construction sites to wear steel-toed boots.

It’s unclear whether Clark will back Weaver’s bill or bring in separate legislation. She told a news conference Monday that her government is looking at the “quickest and simplest” way to implement the change.

“We’d like to get on with it because I think, you know, women shouldn’t be forced to wear high heels by their employers. It’s not fair. It’s discriminatory.”

Weaver said he’s not surprised that Clark has jumped on board.

“I literally can’t find anyone who opposes this. By and large, people don’t realize this is still a thing in 2017,” he said.

The Green party leader said he isn’t aware of similar legislation anywhere else in the world, but noted that the issue was recently discussed by politicians in the United Kingdom.

MPs there debated a ban last week on mandatory workplace high heels in response to a petition started by a receptionist who was sent home without pay for wearing flat shoes. The debate was non-binding, but the government promised to act against heel-height rules, makeup guidelines and other corporate codes that apply to women but not to men.

Nicola Thorp was told in December 2015 that her flat shoes were unacceptable for a temporary assignment in London with finance firm PwC.

Her employment agency, Portico, had a dress code specifying that female workers must wear non-opaque tights, have hair with “no visible roots,” wear “regularly re-applied” makeup — and appear in shoes with a heel between five and 10 centimetres high.

Thorp started an online petition, calling formal workplace dress codes “outdated and sexist.” It gathered more than 150,000 signatures, making it eligible for a debate in Parliament.

Asked if he would be willing to introduce legislation banning other aspects of discriminatory dress codes, Weaver said it’s “egregious” that employers require servers to wear short skirts. But he also said there is a subtle difference between requiring a server to wear heels and other discriminatory dress codes.

“It’s hard to argue the health and safety aspect with short skirts,” he said. “With the high heels, you can definitely argue the health and safety aspect.”

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