Recently, a receptionist at the UK arm of finance firm, PricewaterhouseCoopers was sent home without pay after refusing to wear two inch heels in the workplace. On the other side of the world, a Canadian waitress was berated by management for changing into flats and was expected to wear heels to work the next day.
McDonald Murholme Lawyer, Bianca Mazzarella says that in Australia, a staff member can refuse to wear an item of clothing if the direction is not reasonable and it is discriminatory.
The issue of uniform requirements for employees has caused much debate, especially after the revelations a receptionist at the UK arm of finance firm, PricewaterhouseCoopers, was sent home without pay after refusing to wear heels in the workplace.
The ‘Female grooming policy’ at PricewaterhouseCoopers decrees that women are to wear heels between 2-4 inches, a rule to which Nicola Thorp, the Receptionist, did not comply, arriving to work in black flat shoes.
A supervisor at PricewaterhouseCoopers told Ms Thorp to go to the shops and buy such a pair of heels or be sent home without pay, stating that ‘we only have women in heels at reception’.
This prompted the part-time actress to create an online petition, to stop UK employers forcing women to wearing heels at work, which has since been signed approximately 30,000 times.
Furthermore, on the other side of the world, a Canadian waitress was also berated by management for changing into flats after her feet were left bloodied and damaged after a full shift in heels.
The waitress’ friend posted an image of her feet completely saturated in blood in retaliation. However, the waitress was still told by her workplace’s management that she was expected to return to work and wear heels the next day.
In Australia, a staff member can refuse to wear an item of clothing if the direction is not reasonable and it is found to be discriminatory.
It is widely accepted that there is nothing to prevent employers from setting uniform standards and require their employees to comply, provided that the direction is reasonable and does not discriminate against employees.
Forcing a female worker to wear heels, without imposing similar standards on male employees can be considered discriminatory.
An employee can make a complaint to the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission on the basis that they have been discriminated against in the workplace based on gender.
A uniform can only be imposed if it is reasonable and does not impose different standards on different employees, such as in the PricewaterhouseCoopers example, where Ms Thorp pointed out that the same footwear standards of dress were not imposed on male employees.
Furthermore, employers should consider the health and safety of employees before making such arbitrary policies – and they should not be done on a whim.
An employer should consider whether they may be liable for introducing such standards of dress before doing so and ask themselves – is this discriminatory?
If the uniform is deemed reasonable, a way to avoid potential liability would be to fully disclose any such policy to a potential employee during the recruitment process.
It could then be argued that the employee was fully aware of the company’s uniform requirements prior to commencing their employment, leaving it to be deduced through further investigation whether the company demands were in fact, unreasonable.
If you feel as if you have discriminated against in the workplace based on your gender, we recommend seeking legal advice.
Based in Melbourne, Australia, McDonald Murholme lawyers specialises in upholding the rights of employees during difficult times such as unfair termination of employment or workplace bullying. For more information visit the website www.mcdonaldmurholme.com.au