Consider: if carriage horses had to wear painful horse shoes causing injury and disability, there would be outrage, boycotts and animal cruelty charges.
Women working on their feet all day in high heels should be viewed with the same alarm as if we saw construction workers wearing high heels on a job site.
This is what Worksafe BC regulation 8.22 says about safe footwear in the workplace:
"A worker's footwear must be of a design, construction, and material appropriate to the protection required [taking into consideration] slipping, uneven terrain, abrasion, ankle protection and foot support, crushing potential, temperature extremes, corrosive substances, puncture hazards, electrical shock and any other recognizable hazard."
Read full Worksafe BC 8.22 regulation.
Employers must also take into account their workers safety under Division 3-115 of the BC Worker's Compensation Act: "General duties of employers 115 (1) Every employer must (a) ensure the health and safety of (i) all workers working for that employer"
If restaurants refuse to follow Worksafe regulations to protect women servers from injury and prevent long term disability and health problems, this means any employer is free to ignore any safety regulation whenever it suits them.
There are many hazardous jobs, but health and safety regulations aim to minimize those hazards, often by prescribing protective clothing or equipment. Requiring female serving staff to wear dangerous, painful and injurious footwear does exactly the opposite: it maximizes the potential for hazard and harm.
Falling down stairs while carrying heavy plates of food should not be considered a normal part of anyones workday. High heels are such an obvious work hazard that only a sadist could fail to recognize this. In what other job are workers purposely put in pain while also expected to smile and act cheerful?
"Pointed toes and high heels are particularly inappropriate for working footwear." Government of Canada, Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety Fact Sheets.
High heels cause and contribute to the following conditions:
- Hammertoes: When toes are constantly squashed into a bent position, eventually they are unable to straighten.
- Bunions: A painful bone deformity worsened when the big toe is forced out of alignment by squashing it into narrow-toed shoes.
- Metatarsalgia: Pain and inflammation in balls of the feet due to stress that would normally be distributed over the entire foot.
- Arthritis: High heels throw balance out of alignment, placing more stress on knees, hips and back and increasing the risk of arthritis.
- Injuries: Increased risk from falls and turned ankles.
- Even low heel heights cause problems: "even a 'low'  inch heel increases the peak pressure in the forefoot by 22% compared to 57% in  inch and 76% in  inch heels." (2)
- See infographic on health problems caused by high heels.
- Another infographic on high heel health problems.
Conclusion: Harm from heels is minimized and is thought of as being an acceptable risk -- especially because high heels are a popular fashion fad for women even though heels were originally only worn by only men and after that by women to show they were a member of the leisure class (2). However, harm from heels should not be thought of as an acceptable workplace risk, not just because it violates and make a joke of work safety regulations, but because the harm can accumulate slowly. After working for a certain number of hours wearing heels, it is certain there will be a loss of function in your feet, ankles, knees or back. Loss of mobility has serious long term impacts but young women when they are thinking about the need for income to pay off student loans, or providing income for their children, cannot afford to worry about long term costs to their health and mobility. And if they are aware of the harm, as Amy Tuckett states in her interview about this issue, "servers don't want to stir anything up or they may be fired." (1)
The question that needs to be asked: If health and safety regulations for women servers are ignored, should all health and safety regulations be ignored? And second: What century are we in?
More information on this issue:
- CBC Edmonton article (2015) Website F.E.D. U.P with sexism in YEG restaurants and bars. Find FEDUP Database here.
- Canadian documentary and campaign to stop mandatory heel heights: "Hell on Heels - Workplaces should not hurt". In this interview, documentarian Amy Tuckett stated restaurants with mandatory heel heights refused to comment when she contacted them and that "servers don't want to stir anything up or they may be fired."
- Highly recommended: Marc Linder's detailed examination of high heels and legal battles in the U.S. "Smart Women, Stupid Shoes, and Cynical Employers: The Unlawfulness and Adverse Health Consequences of Sexually Discriminatory Workplace Footwear Requirements for Female Employees" (employees shouldn't have to choose "between a livelihood and a lively step", "the principal reason why the sex- discriminatory heel rule does not immediately strike everyone as equally outrageous is the lack of widespread public appreciation of the crippling long-term impact of high- heeled shoes." )
- Detailed legal report (pdf) "Hold the Cleavage: a look at employee appearance issues in the gaming industry" Kamer and Keller, 2003.
- "Wear shoes with low or no heels." recommendation from page 31 of Worksafe BC Report (PDF) (Preventing Injuries to Hotel and Restaurant Workers)
- 19 per cent of women have refused to seek help because they believed their foot complaint was not important.
- U.S. Casino Cocktail Servers take action against torturous high heels (2013)
- Ontario Human Rights Commission "It is discrimination based on sex to require female employees to wear high heels, short skirts and tight tops."
- Generation Squeeze - a campaign determined that younger generations deserve a chance regarding their economic realities: "lower wages, higher living costs, environmental change and an imbalance in government spending without compromising the family they have, or the family they want."
- Youth and Work blog: Information on workplace law for young people.
BC Ministry of Labour Restaurant Employees Fact Sheet regarding:
- Paying Wages
- Special Clothing (Uniforms)
- Employing Young People
- Termination of Employment
- Hours of Work and Overtime
- Vacations and Vacation Pay
- Statutory Holidays
- Statement of Wages
- University of Alberta research project on hazards of high heels
- BBC: Why did men stop wearing high heels?
- Celebrities on about problems from wearing high heels
- Barefoot shoes (and why some shoes are coffins for your feet)
- Alternet: How U.S. food service workers are abused.
- Guardian: Service sector workers deserve respect. "In no other profession do people assume that it's OK to hit on workers the way they do with servers."
Quotes from online discussion on restaurant clothing and footwear requirements:
"[Two] girls just went to the labour board because they were discriminated against for getting pregnant and no longer meeting “uniform standards”. The uniform in the lounge is completely different from the dining room. Girls in the lounge are required to wear at least a 2 inch heel and now the management is cracking down on the width of the heels. Now they prefer them to be the slender, almost stiletto type of heel because the thicker, more comfortable heel isn’t as ‘classy’. A lounge server told me a couple days ago that she was taking advil during her shift because her feet hurt so much."
"As for heels, I ate at ____ and while we were there 2 women working slipped and fell with full plates of food!"
"I do mystery shops for ____ and the girls must be in heels and short black dresses. HEELS ALL DAY LONG!!!!!"
"The secret shopper who says they have to wear heels all day, actually, any one of those workers can file with the Labour board – heels can cause injury (and I don’t mean by tripping)…. like, long term knee and joint damage. They can file a grievance if they want."
from Q & A advice site: Cocktail waitress shoes, hurting feet, help!?
"I've been working as a Cocktail waitress at a fine dining place for a little over 2 months now. I have tried everything humanly possible to save my feet but I'm nearing the end of my rope. I've tried Clarks shoes with insoles and gel pads. I've tried gravity aerosol shoes with insoles and gel pads. Both heels are no more than 2.5 to 3 inches high. (our heels have to be at least 2 inches) I've bought/tried bunion gel cushions, heel cushions, gel arch supports, toe separators, and wrapping each individual toe in band aids before every shift to avoid corns. NOT WORKING. I still have corns, I'm beginning to get bunions, and I notice now that I am feeling the bunion or bone where it comes in feeling like its rotating in my shoe by the end of the night. It's extremely painful. I am also getting swollen ankles and what feels like a screw being entered into the front and bottom of my ankles. I switched to gravity aersol booties for more ankle support but not the solution. I don't want to quite my job because the money is really good but I don't know what to do. Please help. Any ideas?"
Quote from U.S. Casino job posting:
"Must be able to lift, carry, and serve from a tray at shoulder height with several cocktails weighing up to 25 lbs. Ability to sit, walk, stand, bend, lift, reach, pull, push, kneel, squat and grasp. Must be able to walk and stand for 8 hours. For female applicants, wearing a minimum heel height of 2.0 inches is required."