Dress Code at Work: High Standards, not Heels

Nicola Thorp has caused a media sensation after setting up a petition to the government, demanding ‘women have the option to wear flat formal shoes at work’. The inspiration for the petition, which claims current laws are ‘outdated and sexist’, is a result of an incident last December when the 27 year old refused to wear high heels for a nine-hour shift on her first day as a corporate receptionist, and was subsequently dismissed.
So what should companies take into consideration when thinking about their employees’ appearance?

Here are our Top Five Tips on dress code:

  1. Corporate Image
    If the purpose of a dress code is to portray a corporate image, companies need to take into consideration both the comfort as well as the smartness of their employees. In the current debate, it is agreed by the vast majority that the height of a heel is not an indication of smartness in footwear
  2. Health and Safety
    Sometimes, there are health and safety reasons for having certain standards, but in the case of Nicola Thorp, experts have been unanimous in their health concerns of a woman being expected to wear heels for nine hours; arthritis, damaged joints, bunions, back problems, ankle sprains and tight calves has all been cited as possible consequences. 
  3. Men and Women
    Employers must avoid unlawful discrimination in any dress code policy.  They can have different requirements for men and women, (for example men could be asked to wear ties, whereas women could be asked to tie their hair back) as long as there is an ‘equivalent level of smartness’. 
  4. Explain
    At Verisona Law, we recommend our corporate clients clearly set out in the organisation's policy with explanation as to why certain standards of dress code are expected. For Thorp, if high heels were interpreted as the expectation of receptionists to look sexy, there could be trouble as that would not be a requirement of the role.
  5. Common Sense
    UK employers can dismiss staff who fail to live up to "reasonable" dress code demands, as long as they've been given enough time to buy the right shoes and clothes. However, each case should be looked at individually and reasonable adjustments must be made when needed, for example to accommodate any disabilities staff may have.

Sue is a Director and Head of Employment Law. Praised for her combination of common sense and expert knowledge, she offers advice to commercial clients on all employment matters and has also handled complex cases for individual employees.

Sue enjoys sharing her legal and HR knowledge with organisations in the fast-moving world of sport, particularly football. As an experienced member of Verisona Law’s Football and Sports Law team, Sue understands the issues that are specific to the industry and deals with the many legal elements involved in employment contracts for both players and non-playing staff. She regularly gives advice and support to individuals in contractual negotiations and disputes with Clubs in the Premiership, Championship and lower divisions. She also provides employment and HR advice to Clubs.

Sue is a member of the Employment Lawyers Association, and is a specialist trained ADR workplace mediator.

Sue qualified in 1995 with Gray Purdue and became a Partner there shortly afterwards. When Gray Purdue merged with another local firm in 2008 to form Verisona, Sue became Head of the Employment Law Team. Sue is also a member of Verisona’s Football & Sports Law team.

From defending claims for damages and allegations of breached restrictive covenants or franchise agreements, to helping a multi-national organisation achieve the favourable resolution of a claim from its former CEO, Sue has successfully represented clients in the civil courts and at employment tribunal.

One of her cases went to the House of Lords and is now regarded as an important test case (Neufeld –v- Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise & Regulatory Reform).


  • Contracts of employment and staff handbooks
  • Redundancy procedures
  • Restructuring programmes
  • TUPE law
  • Settlement agreements
  • Employment tribunal claims
  • Disciplinary and grievance processes

Sports and Football

  • Contractual issues
  • Service agreements
  • Executive departures

Company directors

  • Service agreements
  • Planning exit strategies
  • Settlement agreements