Employers warned not to overlook legal dangers of high heels

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Law firm Miller Thomson has warned employers to review their policies on high heels, which the firm says come with occupational health and safety risks.
                            
Partner Monique Petrin-Nicholson has said that, while high heels ‘certainly look great’, they result in risks for employers, particularly in the hospitality industry.
 
“According to workplace studies, high proportions of women working in the restaurant industry report that they have tripped, slipped, or fallen while at work, with many of them reporting that they have suffered injuries because of falls while wearing high heels,” Petrin-Nicholson said in a client update.
 
“It is important for employers to consider the health and safety ramifications of high heels in their workplaces, and to seek legal advice where appropriate in respect of applicable occupational health and safety legislation.”
 
Miller Thomson does not recommend employers enforce the wearing of high heels outright, as this may actually contravene employee human rights.
 
“Though rarely express and in writing, some workplaces may implement policies which require high heels. Such policies may raise issues relating to human rights legislation,” Petrin-Nicholson said.
 
The British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal said in a 2010 decision that different treatment and expectations of male and female employees - including sexually-based dress code requirements - may result in a discrimination claim.
 
“There can be no question that appearance and presentation of employees can be a legitimate and important part of an employer’s business operations.  The Alberta Human Rights Commission, for example, has stated in a 2013 information sheet that an employer has “the right to establish the appearance, grooming, and dress standards that they believe are necessary for the safe or effective conduct of their business” Petrin-Nicholson said.
 
“However, there are limits on these rights, and potential pitfalls, which may warrant consultation with legal counsel,” she said.
 
Petrin-Nicholson suggested women in HR roles look no further than their own personal experience to gauge the effect of a long stint in high heels.
 
“Wearing them for a long period of time can cause pain and discomfort, as many women know,” she said.
 

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