There has been a great deal of press coverage about a female receptionist being sent home from work because she was not wearing high heels. Indeed, according to BBC News reports, the complainant has started a petition calling for the law to be changed so that such demands would be unlawful.
It seems to me that a requirement for women to wear high heels at work could amount to sex discrimination under existing provisions via the Equality Act 2010. If, for example, an employment tribunal were to conclude that only women in the employment were required to wear high heels (and men were not) – then that could amount to direct discrimination. If so, then the employer could have no ‘justifiable’ defence – essentially because you cannot justify direct discrimination.
A requirement for female staff to wear high heels must at the very least establish an argument of indirect discrimination (in that the requirement impacts upon women more than men). In such circumstances, the employer would then need to show that the dress code requirement to wear high heels can be objectively justified as appropriate and necessary. In my view, an employer would find such a defence as being difficult to succeed with. Though, of course, the actual facts (and the employees and employers response to the situation) in any case can be vitally important.