Friday, May 13, 2016

BBC on forcing women to wear high heels at work

BBC - is it legal to force women to wear high heels at work? Depends on what you define as "legal", and that's what so damn many people miss when they look into a social justice topic like this. It's never about laws as the usual person conceives of them - it's about common law.

At least in my country, Canada, occupational health & safety caselaw has caught up with the real world, and guess what? You really do have the lawyers to blame thank.

See, even in the 80s there really was no such thing as occupational health & safety in Canada. So, for example, my dad had to deliver mail using a bag that got slung over one shoulder, meaning most postmen were crippled by the time they retired. Hell - until recently employers didn't even recognize the worker's right to refuse hazardous working conditions: my dad could refuse to deliver mail to a house with a mad dog, but not to a house covered in ice.

But then, across the working world, the lawsuits started coming. And then the corporate lawyers, tasked with reducing litigation risk, started writing page after page of "best practices" and "employment policies" to cover their companies' asses. And it wasn't enough to write stuff in a manual, either - they then found out that the best practices and employment policies had to be enforced uniformly across the firm, if they wanted to eliminate litigation risk. So the lawyers demanded buy-in by management. Not asked. Demanded.

It got so silly that, at my last employer, I was required to wear safety headgear and goggles when standing beside a highway. (The fact that a 100km/hr car will literally cut right through your body like a knife through warm butter when it hits you didn't mean that I didn't still have to protect my head.) And I was expected to tie off when working on a 45 degree slope. And so on.

I'm amazed, today, at how much employers actually care are concerned about try to avoid workplace injuries. And it's all due to litigation risk. The right to refuse hazardous working conditions didn't suddenly begin to be enforced by the Ministry of Labour, it was the lawyers: they realized if they didn't explicitly write right of refusal into employee manuals, their company would lose every single case brought against them by an employee.

Ladies? Would you like to know how to end the stupid sexist practice of requiring women to wear sexy high heels at work?

Well, if it's really true that high heels cause foot injuries, repetitive stress injuries, arthritis and worse, then you should just go and find, say, 1000 stewardesses from British Airlines who have been forced to wear high heels all day through their careers. Then get a lawyer to tot up all medical record of their shoe-related injuries and ailments, and the cost incurred over their lives to treat these injuries.

Then get them together to file a 7- or 8-figure lawsuit against British Airways.

I guarantee you that the legal departments of every corporation in the civilized world will take notice. And voila: within a year or so*, high heels will no longer be considered "appropriate business attire" anywhere.

Because lawyers.

It does not matter what the law says. It only matters what you're liable for. Make corporations liable for things. It's the one thing they haven't taken away from us yet.**

* - it takes time for lawyers to redraft employer policies. Thankfully not that much time, because litigation risk is such a fantastic motivator.

** - offer does not extend to the USA or other kleptocratic dictatorships

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