New amendment puts an end to mandatory high heels in the workplace

On April 7, 2017, the British Columbia government introduced an amendment to the Occupational Health and Safety Regulation (the “O.H.S.R.”) that effectively prohibits employers from requiring employees to wear high heels in the workplace.

The O.H.S.R, which falls under the Workers Compensation Act, requires all employers to take steps to provide a safe workplace for all employees. The O.H.S.R. contains legal requirements that all workplaces must comply with.

Section 8.22 of the O.H.S.R. outlines employers’ obligations with respect to footwear. It requires a worker’s footwear to be “of a design, construction, and material…that allows the worker to safely perform the worker’s work”. Employers must consider factors such as slipping, tripping and uneven terrain in assessing what footwear is appropriate for a given workplace. The newly introduced amendment prohibits employers from requiring employees to wear footwear that could prevent them from safely performing their work. These new changes will be enforced by WorkSafeBC.

It must be noted that while the new language introduced does not specifically mention “high heels”, this amendment was introduced in response to mounting public pressure to end the mandatory high heel requirements common throughout certain industries, such as hospitality. Premier Christy Clark confirmed as much, stating:

“In some workplaces in our province, women are required to wear high heels on the job. Like most British Columbians, our government thinks this is wrong. That is why we’re changing this regulation to stop this unsafe and discriminatory practice and adding an enforcement element by WorkSafeBC”.

Interestingly, based upon the language of the new amendment, it would appear that if a worker cannot perform their duties safely while wearing high heels (or other unsafe footwear), that the employer must not permit the worker to wear the “unsafe” footwear, in order to ensure that the employer complies with its obligations under the O.H.S.R. The result is that a worker cannot choose to wear high heels, if the employer believes that doing so would prevent them from performing their work safely.

The Provincial government and WorkSafeBC will be developing a workplace guideline for employers and employees to support the amended regulation. The guideline is expected to be available by the end of April.

Please contact Kacey Krenn if you have any questions regarding this amendment to the O.H.S.R.

Order in Council No. 184