After refusing to wear heels for a job at PwC, Nicola Thorp, a 27-year-old temp worker from Hackney, was sent home without pay.
The outsourcing company, Portico, said that Thorp signed the “appearance guidelines,” but Thorp says that the dress code was "not a PwC policy".
PwC, a finance company located in London, required Thorp to wear two to four inch heels working as a receptionist that required quite a bit of walking.
"I said 'if you can give me a reason as to why wearing flats would impair me to do my job today, then fair enough,' but they couldn't," Thorp told BBC Radio London. "I was expected to do a nine-hour shift on my feet escorting clients to meeting rooms. I said 'I just won't be able to do that in heels.'"
When she brought up the fact that men were not forced to follow the same dress code, they laughed.
After posting about her experience on Facebook, Thorp realized that this was a widespread issue; many of her friends and family members came forward with their own stories of similar occurrences. She decided then and there to bring light to the subject, and hopefully change the law that makes these kinds of regulations perfectly legal.
That's when the petition started.
"I was a bit scared about speaking up about it in case there was a negative backlash," she said. "But I realized I needed to put a voice to this as it is a much bigger issue."
Thorp explains that her beef isn’t with the company—it’s with the societal pressures that influence dress codes like the one at PwC.
"I don't hold anything against the company necessarily because they are acting within their rights as employers to have a formal dress code, and as it stands, part of that for a woman is to wear high heels," Thorp said.
As it stands in England right now, it is perfectly legal for an employer to dismiss an employee that doesn’t live up to "reasonable" dress code demands—just as long as they've been given enough time to buy the right shoes and clothes.
"I think dress codes should reflect society and nowadays women can be smart and formal and wear flat shoes,” Thorp continued. “Aside from the debilitating factor, it's the sexism issue. I think companies shouldn't be forcing that on their female employees."
The managing director at Portico, Simon Pratt, explained to BBC News that while the guidelines are in line with the law, they will take the comments about footwear into consideration.
A spokesperson for PwC said that they were discussing the guidelines with Portico, and that they do not "have specific dress guidelines for male or female employees."
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