B.C. bans employers’ mandatory high heels policies in some workplaces: amendments to footwear regulations now in effect

On April 7, 2017, the British Columbia government amended the footwear regulation under the Occupational Health and Safety Regulation, BC Reg 296/97 (the “Regulation”) to specify that employers cannot require a worker to wear footwear that is not of a design, construction, and material appropriate to the protection required, or which does not allow the worker to safely perform his or her work.  The driving force behind this amendment was largely to address health and safety issues arising in hospitality workplaces such as restaurants and bars where employers required employees to wear high heels.

Section 8.22 of the Regulation already required footwear to be of a design, construction, and material appropriate to the protection required. The amendment adds that the footwear must allow the worker to safely perform the worker’s work, and introduces the following elements:

  • The addition of “tripping” and the “potential for musculoskeletal injury” to the list of factors in Section 8.22(2) which must be considered when determining the appropriate protection required of footwear; and
  • A provision prohibiting employers from requiring that workers wear footwear which does not comply with the requirements of appropriate design, construction, and material, or which does not allow the worker to safely perform work (Section 8.22(2.1)).The guideline indicates that the Regulation is not intended to interfere with a worker’s choice of footwear if there are no hazards of foot or ankle injury or potential for musculoskeletal injury. A risk assessment should be made to determine what constitutes appropriate footwear in the context of an employee’s particular duties and workplace, taking into account all of the factors in Section 8.22(2).The guideline has been released initially as a “Preliminary Issue” and will remain marked as such for a 60-day period during which time the public may provide comments to WorkSafeBC.
  • Although the guideline specifically addresses high heels, the amendments to the Regulation are not limited to high heels. The additions to Section 8.22 apply to all types of footwear and any employer dress codes or requirements with respect to footwear.
  • On April 28, 2017, WorkSafeBC introduced a new guideline “G.8.22(2.1) High heels” to assist in the interpretation and application of Section 8.22(2.1). The guideline suggests that high heels – given their lack of ankle protection and foot support – would not be appropriate footwear for hospitality workers who walk on different surfaces, including slippery surfaces and stairs, often while carrying food and drinks, such that they are exposed to hazards such as slipping, tripping, uneven terrain, and the potential for musculoskeletal injury.  A dress code requiring these workers to wear high heels would contravene the Regulation.
Jeff Bastien

About Jeff Bastien

As a member of Vancouver’s labour and employment group and litigation and dispute resolution group, Jeff Bastien is uniquely positioned to advise clients on a multitude of issues facing the modern business.

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