Mandatory high heels in Alberta workplaces outlawed

Clearly, despite the perceived fashion benefits, wearing this type of footwear is not great, especially for extended periods such as an eight-hour workday.
Clearly, despite the perceived fashion benefits, wearing this type of footwear is not great, especially for extended periods such as an eight-hour workday.

Workers in Alberta will no longer be forced to don potentially dangerous high heeled shoes if they want to keep their jobs.

“I have heard from many Alberta women in the hospitality industry that this change needs to happen. It’s clear that forcing women to wear high heels at work is a bad idea. This is an important change that will help create healthy work environments where workers can do their jobs safely and not be forced to use footwear that creates potential hazards,” said Christina Gray, Minister of Labour announcing amendments to the Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Code.

It’s a welcome relief for restaurant workers, who faced multiple hazards and pain in the past. “Prolonged high heel use is associated with workplace trips, slips, falls, painful foot conditions and skeletal and muscular injuries,” said a ministry press release.

But why are high heels so hazardous? According to the Pedorthic Association of Canada, which is a non-profit group of foot and lower-limb specialists, “high heels force your weight forward onto the ball of your foot, making it impossible to heel-strike properly. They shift you onto a part of your foot not meant to bear your full weight for prolonged periods of time. Prolonged high heel use puts you at a higher risk of injury even when you’re not wearing heels.”

Clearly, despite the perceived fashion benefits, wearing this type of footwear is not great, especially for extended periods such as an eight-hour workday.

In Ontario, the former Liberal government passed an amendment to the OHS that “prevents employers from requiring a worker to wear footwear with an elevated heel unless it is required for the worker to perform his or her work safely.”

Not only are the requirements to wear high heels injurious, but they target only women, according to former Ontario MPP Cristina Martins, who proposed the change in 2017.

“Note that these dress codes are and always have been gendered and only women are expected to risk their personal safety to meet these unfair dress codes,” Martins said to Global TV.

The Ontario Podiatric Medical Association, in lauding the bill, said that women are four times more likely to experience long-term foot-health problems than men, making Martins’ bill a welcomed health and safety measure.

The Putting Your Best Foot Forward Act 2017 passed second reading and is currently at the committee stage. It’s anyone’s guess if the current PC government under Doug Ford will pass that into law.

But in B.C., the former government under Premier Christy Clark successfully implemented a regulation in 2017 that “ensures that workplace footwear is of a design, construction and material that allows the worker to safely perform their work and ensures that employers cannot require footwear contrary to this standard. To determine appropriate footwear, the following factors must be considered: slipping, tripping, uneven terrain, abrasion, ankle protection and foot support, crushing potential, potential for musculoskeletal injury, temperature extremes, corrosive substances, puncture hazards, electrical shock and any other recognizable hazard.”

Like Ontario, Manitoba passed into second reading an NDP private member’s bill that would outlaw the practice.

“Certainly, I would suggest to you that an inch to three-inch heels is not conducive to a safe workplace for women. I would suggest that it is discriminatory in the sense that we don’t ask men doing the same exact duties and the same exact job to wear heels themselves,” said MLA Nahanni Fontaine, who proposed the bill.

The bill is currently at the committee stage.

It’s clear to many people that forcing women to wear high heels on the job is beyond discriminatory and unfairly sexualizes them, while imposing a painful workplace requirement. But it’s 2018, soon to be 2019, and these types of requirements, most people agree, belong in the dark, distant past.

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