Should bosses be able to force women to bind their feet?

The BBC asks: Is it legal to force women to wear high heels at work?

If it is it certainly shouldn’t be. High heels are a form of foot-binding, and forced foot-binding should never be legal. People should be strongly discouraged from binding their own feet, and entirely forbidden to bind or demand the binding of anyone else’s.

A 27-year-old woman working for a City firm in London says she was sent home for refusing to wear high heels. But is this legal, fair or healthy?

Nicola Thorp says she was laughed at when she told her bosses that she didn’t want to wear high heels on her first day as a corporate receptionist.

“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,” she told the BBC.

She was wearing flats, and they told her to go buy heels or else go home without pay. She refused and was sent away without pay.

Now Thorp has set up a petition to the government, demanding “women have the option to wear flat formal shoes at work”. It has picked up more than 7,000 signatures. The petition says the law as it stands is “outdated and sexist”.

UK employers can dismiss staff who fail to live up to “reasonable” dress code demands, says employment law firm Thompsons, as long as they’ve been given enough time to buy the right shoes and clothes. They can set up different codes for men and women, as long as there’s an “equivalent level of smartness”.

“Reasonable” – such a flexible word, so different for the employer versus the worker. No doubt it seems very reasonable to a boss to tell a worker to wear crippling shoes, but it doesn’t necessarily seem reasonable to the worker.

Then there are health concerns. “From the point of view of the foot high heels are a disaster,” said Tony Redmond, a biomechanics expert at Leeds University. “The joints of the feet can be damaged by wearing high heels, and this can cause some forms of arthritis.”

He also warned that regularly wearing heels increases the mechanical wear and tear around the knee joints, which might increase the risk of osteoarthritis. It also puts people with weak lower backs at risk of slipped vertebrae.

Plus they’re narrow and pointy, in keeping with the whole fragile, dainty theme, and that’s bad for the whole front half of the foot.

The College of Podiatry has warned employers not to make women wear high heels at work because they can cause bunions, back problems, ankle sprains and tight calves. It has been worked out that it takes an average of one hour, six minutes and 48 seconds for them to start hurting.

The really nasty ones hurt as soon as you put them on.

Photos of the bloodied feet of a waitress in Canada – who worked a full shift in high heels, part of the company’s dress code – have been shared more than 10,000 times on Facebook.

Last year, the Israeli airline El Al established a rule that all female cabin crew had to wear high heels until all passengers were seated.

Simon Pratt, Managing Director at Portico, said Thorp had reported to work with “inappropriate footwear”, saying she had “previously signed the appearance guidelines.” He adds that such guidelines were “common practice within the service sector” but the company were now reviewing them. PwC says it’s in discussions about Portico’s policies. The incident involving Thorp happened last December. She started the petition this week.

It has received more than 20,000 signatures, meaning the government must give a comment. If it gets 100,000, there’s a chance MPs could debate in Parliament whether women should have to wear high heels at work.

What does foot-binding do? It disables women. It makes women less able to run away.

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