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 said: “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”.