Bill would allow women working in B.C. restaurants to refuse to wear high heels

Bill would allow women working in B.C. restaurants to refuse to wear high heels

Green Party leader Andrew Weaver says it's high time to get rid of mandatory high heels for women working in restaurants and bars.

Weaver introduced a bill on Wednesday to amend the Workers Compensation Act so safety standards, including for footwear, must be the same for all genders.

"We do have, in the Workers Compensation Act, some footwear requirements," he said. "What I did was bring in the bill that would make it illegal for an employer to require footwear to be different depending on your gender, gender expression or gender identity.

"[If] it is going to be a matter of dress code that everyone in a restaurant wear high heel shoes, then every man would have to wear high heel shoes. And I suspect there would be some protestations there."

Weaver says forcing women to wear high heel shoes is both a health risk, as the shoes can be bad for backs and feet, and also a safety issue as restaurants often have slipping hazards.

"This is a human rights issue. I didn't think people could do this in 2017."

Some employers still demand high heels

Ian Tostenson, president of the B.C. Restaurant and Food Association, says making an employee wear high heel shoes for nine hours is "cruel" and is in favour of Weaver's bill.

However, he says it is somewhat unnecessary because food services are facing a labour shortage and must accommodate the needs of employees so "people who are working in restaurants can pretty much call their own shots."

But he says there are some employers that do demand high heels of their female employees.

"That's just going to take time," he said. "I think any business that wants to be successful today and be attractive to the millennials and the emerging economy. They have to be on top of that kind of stuff."

He also argues employees are already well-protected by human rights laws and even social media reporting to prevent employers from violating their rights. "You're going to end up on a Twitter feed or an Instagram feed and no business can afford to do that."

NDP labour critic Shane Simpson said in a statement that his party feels "it is unacceptable for women to be abused or harassed in the workplace" and called for a higher minimum wage and employment standards but expressed doubt the government would ever allow Weaver's motion to come to a vote.

A statement from Shirley Bond, the minister responsible for labour, says "the provincial government does not tolerate discrimination or harassment of any kind."

"I have asked WorkSafeBC to look at expanding their education programs with go2HR," she is quoted as having said. "There are also protections under the B.C. Human Rights Code to address sexual harassment or discrimination based on gender."