Receptionist at PwC told: 'Dress in high heels or go home'
A receptionist has claimed she was sent home for refusing an order to wear high heels in her new job at PwC in London.
Nicola Thorp (27), a temp and part-time actress, has set up a petition campaigning to make it illegal to force women to wear heels at work, which has attracted over 40,000 signatures.
The allegations were described as a "blatant" example of gender discrimination at work by an Irish employment law specialist last night.
Legal experts have said that an Irish company would find themselves in breach of employment law if they tried to force female employees to wear heels.
Ms Thorp has alleged she turned up for her new job last December in flat shoes - but was told the firm's dress code said she had to wear 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.
PwC in the UK said that it does not have a clause in its dress code about high heels, and that this was applied by an outsourcing company, Portico, which supplies its secretarial staff. PwC in Ireland also said it does not have any such policy in its dress code here.
Outsourcing firm Portico said Ms Thorp had "signed the appearance guidelines" but it would now review guidelines.
"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'.
"I pointed to a male colleague and said, 'Well, he is wearing flat shoes, why can't I?', and of course that is [when I was] laughed at," she said.
"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."
"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.
Simon Pratt, managing director at 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 heels.
"We have taken on board the comments regarding footwear and will be reviewing our guidelines," he added.
"That's direct discrimination on the ground of gender. It's not a requirement of the job and it's only applied to women," solicitor Anne O'Connell told the Irish Independent.
"You wouldn't think that it would happen so blatantly at this stage… I'd say there were cases years ago when equality was just coming in you'd have cases like that but not so blatant now."