Alberta’s labour minister to consider mandatory high heel ban in the workplace
Christina Gray said she wants to hear from Albertans on the subject after B.C. recently made changes its Workers Compensation Act
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British Columbia’s move to ban mandatory high heels in the workplace could give rise to similar changes in Alberta.
Last Friday, B.C. Premier Christy Clark announced amendments to the footwear regulation under the Workers' Compensation Act (WCA).
“This change will let employers know that the most critical part of an employee’s footwear is that it is safe,” Clark said in a statement. “I expect employers to recognize this very clear signal that forcing someone to wear high heels at work is unacceptable.”
Alberta Labour Minister Christina Gray told Metro she has been monitoring the developments in B.C. with interest and is committed to having a similar conversation in this province.
(We) recognize high heels in particular can cause health and safety concerns for workers,” Gray said, and added that no woman should face discrimination at work because of her gender.
A private members bill introduced by B.C. Green party Leader Andrew Weaver last month would have made it illegal for employers to require women to wear high heels at work, but instead of implementing the bill, the government amended the WCB.
The amended regulation says employers cannot force workers to wear footwear with a design, construction or material that inhibits the worker’s ability to safely perform their job, and employers have to consider slipping, ankle protection, foot support, muscle or bone injuries, and electrical shock when considering mandatory footwear.
Gray said her ministry is currently reviewing Alberta’s labour legislation – including the Workers Compensation Act and the Employment Standards Code – and high heels will likely be part of the discussion.
“We will be looking at Alberta’s Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) code in the coming months,” Gray said. “I am very interested in hearing what Albertans think about this topic.”
The president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, an umbrella organization for unionized workers in Alberta that has roughly 175,000 members, said they will be submitting their recommendations to the government when the OHS code is reviewed.
“It shouldn’t be allowed (to mandate high heels be worn at work), simple as that. That’s the position we will be taking formally with the government,” said Gil McGowan.
“This is a big issue for women in the service sector, all across the county. We receive complaints on a regular basis from women who feel pressured into wearing high heels when they don’t want to or feel it’s not in their best interest, in terms of health and safety,” he said.
Rebecca Sullivan, professor and coordinator of the women’s studies program at the University of Calgary, provides gender-diversity and equity training to workplaces – including addressing discriminatory dress codes. She said women should wear heels if they want to, but they shouldn't be a requirement for the job.
“There is no work on the planet where high heels are necessary,” Sullivan said.
“We need to start holding the employers and customers accountable for discriminatory and harassing behaviour towards women employees,” she said, pointing out that any practice which exposes an employee to an unnecessary health risk is already against the law.
“It’s up to the government to enforce the law, and it’s up to businesses to not put their workers in harm’s way for no reason,” Sullivan said.
Albertans who feel they are being discriminated against can contact the Alberta Human Rights Commission to discuss their rights and consider filing a complaint.
If you believe you are not being adequately protected at work, you can register a complaint by contacting the Occupational Health and Safety Contact Centre.