Can Australian women refuse to wear high heels at work?

BROEDE CARMODY / Friday, May 13 2016

The internet has been abuzz this week after a London receptionist claimed she was sent home from work for refusing to wear high heels.

Nicola Thorp recently turned up to her temporary receptionist role at professional services firm PricewaterhouseCoopers in the UK but was told she needed to wear shoes with two to four-inch heels, according to the BBC.

PwC has since said high heels are not part of its dress code.

Thorp was hired by outsourcing company Portico, however, which is reviewing its dress code after the story went viral.

A petition calling on the UK Parliament to reform workplace laws has been signed by more than 100,000 people.

Current dress code laws in the UK make it legal for companies to require female staff to wear high heels at work against their will, according to the petition.

“Dress code laws should be changed so that women have the option to wear flat formal shoes at work, if they wish,” the petition reads.

“Current formal work dress codes are outdated and sexist.”

Can female workers refuse to wear high heels in Australia?

Bianca Mazzarella, a lawyer at employment law firm McDonald Murholme, told SmartCompany women in Australia can refuse to wear high heels at work – at least in Victoria.

“An employee, if they were told to wear high heels at work and there is a uniform as such that’s imposed, could make a complaint to the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission,” Mazzarella says.

“If there’s men in the workplace and they aren’t asked to do the same thing – and if I was a betting woman I would bet they wouldn’t be – then a woman can basically claim she’s being discriminated against in the workplace based on gender.”

Mazzarella says businesses need to carefully consider the impact of their uniform policies and make sure all employees are properly educated about them.

“A uniform can be enforced on employees only if it’s reasonable,” she says.

“You wouldn’t want to make such a policy on a whim.”