Dress Code at Work: High Standards, not Heels

Nicola Thorp has caused a media sensation after setting up a petition to the government, demanding ‘women have the option to wear flat formal shoes at work’. The inspiration for the petition, which claims current laws are ‘outdated and sexist’, is a result of an incident last December when the 27 year old refused to wear high heels for a nine-hour shift on her first day as a corporate receptionist, and was subsequently dismissed.
So what should companies take into consideration when thinking about their employees’ appearance?

Here are our Top Five Tips on dress code:

  1. Corporate Image
    If the purpose of a dress code is to portray a corporate image, companies need to take into consideration both the comfort as well as the smartness of their employees. In the current debate, it is agreed by the vast majority that the height of a heel is not an indication of smartness in footwear
  2. Health and Safety
    Sometimes, there are health and safety reasons for having certain standards, but in the case of Nicola Thorp, experts have been unanimous in their health concerns of a woman being expected to wear heels for nine hours; arthritis, damaged joints, bunions, back problems, ankle sprains and tight calves has all been cited as possible consequences. 
  3. Men and Women
    Employers must avoid unlawful discrimination in any dress code policy.  They can have different requirements for men and women, (for example men could be asked to wear ties, whereas women could be asked to tie their hair back) as long as there is an ‘equivalent level of smartness’. 
  4. Explain
    At Verisona Law, we recommend our corporate clients clearly set out in the organisation's policy with explanation as to why certain standards of dress code are expected. For Thorp, if high heels were interpreted as the expectation of receptionists to look sexy, there could be trouble as that would not be a requirement of the role.
  5. Common Sense
    UK employers can dismiss staff who fail to live up to "reasonable" dress code demands, as long as they've been given enough time to buy the right shoes and clothes. However, each case should be looked at individually and reasonable adjustments must be made when needed, for example to accommodate any disabilities staff may have.

Sue is Head of Employment & Southern Region. Praised for her combination of common sense and expert knowledge, she offers advice to commercial clients on all employment matters and has also handled complex cases for individual employees.

From defending claims for damages and allegations of breached restrictive covenants or franchise agreements, to helping a multi-national organisation achieve the favourable resolution of a claim from its former CEO, Sue has successfully represented clients in the civil courts and at employment tribunal.

Sue enjoys sharing her legal and HR knowledge with organisations in the fast-moving world of sport, particularly football. As an experienced member of Verisona Law’s Football and Sports Law team, Sue understands the issues that are specific to the industry and deals with the many legal elements involved in employment contracts for non-playing staff at a very senior level. She regularly gives advice and support to individuals in contractual negotiations and disputes with Clubs in the Premiership, Championship and lower divisions. She also provides employment and HR advice to Clubs.

Sue is a member of the Employment Lawyers Association, and is a specialist trained ADR workplace mediator.

Sue is recommended in the Legal 500 2019.

Client testimonials

"Sue was easy to deal with and offered all options available. Jane was in contact beforehand to tell me what information was needed and also Sue was prepared for our meeting. I cannot praise Sue and Jane enough and would have absolutely no hesitation in recommending Sue and her team."
Mr B, February 2018

"I can thoroughly recommend Sue Ball who has provided me with very clear professional advice on a contractual settlement I needed assistance on. The advice was delivered in a very warm & friendly manner & I would have no hesitation in using her services in future."
Mr Hadadda

The Legal 500 - The Clients Guide to Law Firms

Sue qualified in 1995 with Gray Purdue and became a Partner there shortly afterwards. When Gray Purdue merged with another local firm in 2008 to form Verisona, Sue became Head of the Employment Law Team. Sue is also a member of Verisona’s Football & Sports Law team.

One of Sue's cases went to the House of Lords and is now regarded as an important test case (Neufeld -v- Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise & Regulatory Reform).


  • Contracts of employment and staff handbooks
  • Redundancy procedures
  • Restructuring programmes
  • TUPE law
  • Settlement agreements
  • Employment tribunal claims
  • Disciplinary and grievance processes

Sports and Football

  • Contractual issues
  • Service agreements
  • Executive departures

Company directors

  • Service agreements
  • Planning exit strategies
  • Settlement agreements

"Over the years, I have developed a great trust in my working relationship with Mike Dyer, Head of Commercial Law at Verisona. One of the things I value most is that he is always at the end of a phone. On the rare occasions he is unavailable, his secretary is always well informed and very helpful. Through Mike, I have met many other members of Verisona and, just like in the recruitment industry, they understand the importance of being treated like an individual. They make me feel valued and important to both them and their business. At Verisona, you always deal with real people who you know and are in a position to help. Most importantly, Verisona delivers. We recently had an urgent situation regarding the restrictive covenants of new members of staff. Employment specialist Susan Ball came in on a day off to listen to us, dissect and analyse the situation, and translate what we wanted to achieve into the best possible legal language and solution. This is just one example of the calm, efficient professionalism I have come to value from Verisona over the years. Verisona has a refreshing approach to the law. They are there when we need them, always easy to talk to, go out of their way to make sure that we understand what they are doing for us and why, and always get the best results".

Stuart Cox

Legally enforcing the tribunal award

To enforce the Tribunal award we applied to the Defendant’s local County Court for it to be registered and for permission to enforce the award.  

The Court granted the application and on the Register of Judgments, Orders and Fines.  As a result the Tribunal award would appear as a County Court Judgment which would likely affect the Defendant’s credit rating. 

Time limits for enforcing Tribunal awards

It is worth noting that there is no time restriction for registering or enforcing a Tribunal award. You can enforce one even if it is several years old.  In addition, it is usually possible to claim interest on the amount until you receive payment.

A commercial business

"Thanks for all your help on this - you've been so helpful to me in guiding and explaining everything, so just to say thank you for obviously helping represent my case but also allowing me to understand the process and giving me greater awareness of what I need to be mindful of when signing future contracts".

Former employee of professional football club

Sue was easy to deal with and offered all options available. Jane was in contact beforehand to tell me what information was needed and Sue was prepared for our meeting. I cannot praise Sue and Jane enough and would have absolutely no hesitation in reommending Sue and her team.

Mr B

  • Sue Ball

    Sue Ball

    Principal Lawyer, Head of Employment & Southern Region

    T: 023 9231 2053

    M: 07815 792 923

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