Researchers call for an end to compulsory high heels in the office

The issue of whether or not women should be required to wear high-heeled shoes in some jobs has reared its head again, after a research review led by academics called for an end to the practice.

Parliament discussed a motion to ban companies from being able to tell female employees they must wear heels of a certain height back in April, but the introduction of a law on the matter was rejected.

It came after a temp receptionist for the accountancy firm PwC was sent home without pay for wearing flat shoes and told she was required to buy a style with heels that were between two and four inches high.

Now, researchers at the University of Aberdeen have carried out a research review and discovered numerous studies showing a link between wearing high heels and an increased risk of foot pain, bunions, musculoskeletal pain and injury. However, they did not uncover significant evidence concerning osteoarthritis.

They recommended further investigation into the issue and argued that more needs to be done to prevent women being forced to wear certain footwear if they do not wish to.

Significant anecdotal evidence was collected showing that women in some service jobs, such as cabin crew or shop workers, are required to wear heels despite needing to be on their feet for up to nine hours a day and having to climb steps to stockrooms or lift heavy boxes. Many reported that employers view high heels as smart and flats as casual, resulting in them making the former compulsory.

Lecturer Dr Heather Morgan said she hopes the review will “put pressure on law makers to toughen up legislation so that no-one is forced against their will to wear [heels] in the workplace”.

What does the law say?
Some countries have already amended their workplace legislation concerning the wearing of high heels, including the Canadian province of British Columbia.

However, although the UK government has promised to develop guidelines for footwear and raise awareness of the fact that high heels may not always be in the best interest of workers, it has so far resisted calls to introduce a law banning the compulsory wearing of heels of a particular height.

That means it is still legal for employers to dismiss staff if they fail to adhere to ‘reasonable’ dress code standards when they have had the opportunity to do so – despite the fact that these are set by the employer themselves.

Different dress codes can also be dictated for women and men that are deemed the equivalent level of smartness.

What does the medical evidence say?
Numerous different organisations have carried out studies on the medical effects of prolonged wear of high-heeled footwear. Submitting evidence to the April parliamentary review, the College of Podiatry said it did not think women should be forced to wear such footwear as part of a uniform, pointing out that there “is a strong body of clinical evidence that significantly indicates the medical and disabling effects”.

Indeed, evidence has shown that high heels affect the wearers’ stance and gait, and can lead to joint pain in the feet, back and knees.

The College concluded that “it may be time for employers to review these strict dress codes” and said “footwear needs to be sensible and suitable for work activities and the working environment”.

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents also said it may be interesting to gather data on the number of fall, slip and trip-related workplace injuries that have occurred as a result of footwear.

In the absence of a law, it is ultimately up to employers to decide if they want workers to portray a particular image through their footwear. However, it may be worth taking into consideration the latest research concerning the effects on health and the time staff must spend on their feet before coming up with a dress code that includes stilettos.


Posted by Julie Tucker

Image courtesy of iStock/AntonioGuillem

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