Receptionist laughed out of work after refusing to wear heels

Nicola Thorp (Pic: BBC News)
Nicola Thorp (Pic: BBC News)

A receptionist claims she was sent home after she refused to wear heels at work.

Nicola Thorp, 27, has now set up a petition asking for it to be made illegal for companies to require women to wear the footwear for their jobs.

The temp turned up at PwC last December in flat shoes, but was told she had to have a two to four inch heel.

When she refused, and pointed out that her male colleagues were not required to do the same, she was laughed at and told to go home without pay, she said.

Speaking to the BBC, Ms Thorp said: "That day I was wearing flat black shoes and they gave me a dress to wear and a jacket, which I put on, and the supervisor said 'well, you're not going to wear those'.

"'We only have women in heels at reception' and I said 'well, I think that is ridiculous'. I pointed to a male colleague and said 'well, he is wearing flat shoes, why can't I?', and of course that is laughed at.

"They then said to me 'you can go out and buy a pair of heels if you like, we will let you work'. I refused and was sent home."

Outsourcing firm Portico said Ms Thorp had "signed the appearance guidelines" but it would now review guidelines.

She added that it was her fundamental right as a woman to choose whether to wear heels, and that she would not have been comfortable spending a nine-hour shift showing people around, in the required footwear.

"There are some companies who think that the way a woman should look in a corporate environment is to be two to four inches taller and to change the way that I suppose they carry themselves," said Ms Thorp.

Portico said the shoes worn on the day did not adhere to a number of style requirements, such as the lack of embellishment, and that she was not just asked to change shoes because of the lack of heel.

Simon Pratt, managing director at Portico, said: "We can confirm that the individual in question did report to work for Portico with inappropriate footwear on 7 December 2015, having previously signed the appearance guidelines.

"Upon arrival, they were advised by Portico that they would need to be dressed in accordance with the guidelines to complete their shift and were offered the opportunity to source alternative shoes. Having declined said opportunity, the individual chose to return home and not complete the shift."

He added: "We have taken on board the comments regarding footwear and will be reviewing our guidelines."

Commenting on Ms Thorp's situation, Rebecca Hilsenrath, chief executive of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said: "Forty-five years on since the introduction of the Sex Discrimination Act, it's baffling that there are still some companies that are practising this sort of outdated sexism.

"In our view, unless equally stringent requirements are applied to male workers, it is likely that a requirement to wear two inch heels would constitute unlawful discrimination, and we will look into whether action needs to be taken."

So far Ms Thorp's petition has attracted more than 20,000 signatures.