You may have read recently about the protest in Japan. Women are protesting, no revolting, against the requirement that they wear high heels to work, claiming it’s gender discrimination. Japan’s Health, Labour and Welfare Minister, Takumi Nemoto, a man, claims, “It is socially accepted as something that falls within the realm of being occupationally necessary and appropriate.”  Well, I respectfully disagree.

When I heard a news clip on the radio about the #KuToo movement, a play on the words for shoes and agony, I thought of something I read in a career advice column earlier in the year.

The advice seeker wrote that her company requires professional office attire and for women that means high heels. She’d been diagnosed with back pain and told by her doctor to wear flats.  Her boss called her out for wearing casual shoes. She wanted to know if the boss could dictate what she wore.

Well, both columnists who responded totally missed the mark. She talked about employment-at-will, securing doctors notes and eliciting advice from the boss. He did an on-line search of women’s shoes where he found 25 types of women’s heels, and talked about a shopping trip with his wife for women’s shoes.

While Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 doesn’t specify manner of dress as a protection, there are state and local non-discrimination laws that do. And without checking with an employment attorney, I’d venture an opinion that requiring women to where a certain style of shoes, while not making the same demands on men, is likely sex discrimination under Title VII – or close to it.

The advice seeker didn’t elaborate on the nature of her back pain, but its root cause could be covered by the Americans with Disability Act.  Her employer could be flirting with yet another claim of discrimination.

Dress codes are tricky. Indeed, we struggled with how to talk about “questionable” workplace dress in our next book about the dynamics of workplace behavior.  Yes, employers should have the expectation their team members – male and female – will dress in a manner that’s professional, acceptable and appropriate for the organization’s business. In certain occupations, those that are safety related for example, requirements for certain manner of dress, including shoes, is certainly reasonable.  But mandating that high heels is the only acceptable foot ware for women, is not.

In The Manager’s Answer Book, we talk about recognizing other legal pitfalls in Section 7. We’d be delighted if you’d purchase a copy and check it out. https://tinyurl.com/y8umaqpz

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