Ius Gentium

University of Baltimore School of Law's Center for International and Comparative Law Fellows discuss international and comparative legal issues


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WALKING A MILE IN HER SHOES -FEMALE EMPLOYEES VS. EMPLOYERS IN MODERN DAY UNITED KINGDOM

 Roman Msaki 

The history of women and high heels is very interesting. Our early ancestors they didn’t care about putting shoes leaving alone high heels. In all likelihood, they went barefoot. Shoes in the form of sandals emerged around 9,000 years ago as a means of protecting bare feet from the elements (specifically, frostbite).

The Greeks viewed shoes as an indulgence—a means of increasing status, though it was a Greek, actually Aeschylus, who created the first high heel, called “korthonos” for theatrical purposes. His intent was to “add majesty to the heroes of his plays so that they would stand out from the lesser players and be more easily recognized”.[1]

Greek women adopted the trend, taking the wedge heel to new heights that the late Alexander McQueen would have likely applauded. The adoption of shoes, and the heel, for Greeks appears to coincide with Roman influence, and ultimately Roman conquest. Roman fashion was viewed as a sign of power and status, and shoes represented a state of civilization[2].

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The widespread popularity of the heel is credited to Catherine de Medici who wore heels to look taller. When she wore them to her wedding to Henry II of France, they became a status symbol for the wealthy. Commoners were banned from wearing heels, although it’s doubtful that they would have been able to afford them anyway. Later, the French heel predecessor to the narrow, tall heel of today would be made popular by Marquise de Pompadour, mistress of Louis XV. These shoes initially required women to use walking sticks to keep their balance until the height of the heel was reduced[3].

In the United States the campaign “Walking a Mile in her Shoes” was designed to raise male awareness and condemn rape, sexual assault and gender violence[4]. The main aim of the drive was to enable men to experience a day on “heels”.

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But, the story of Nicole Thorp, a secretary of the London big accountancy firm “PWC”[5]  in United Kingdom tells us another story, a different perspective on wearing high heels. In her firm, high heels are mandatory. She was sent back home in December 2015 for wearing flats instead of high heels[6]. She refused to obey the then rules of her employment agency, Portico, that she should wear shoes with heels that were between two and four inches high. Ms. Thorp argued that wearing them all day would be bad for her feet.[7] She started a petition in 2016, which attracted about 150,000 signatures[8] far beyond the required number of signatures needed to trigger a response by the government.

“This may have started over a pair of high heels, but what it has revealed about discrimination in the UK workplace is vital, as demonstrated by the hundreds of women who came forward via the committees’ online forum…………… (words omitted for emphasis); The current system favors the employer, and is failing employees,” she said in reflection of what really going on in employment sector in United Kingdom.[9]

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The United Kingdom passed the Equality Act in 2010 in order to ensure equal treatment at work for all genders. However, dress code regulations have been solely left within employers’ hands. As a result, two House of Common committees, (the Petition committee and the Women and Equality Committee) invited the public to send in their own examples of discriminatory dress codes. As a result, they were inundated with examples. The committee heard from women who were asked to wear shorter skirts, to unbutton blouses, and of dress codes that specified shades of nail varnish and hair color choices.[10]

The committees report[11] revealed evidence dating from 1880 to the present day which showed a “direct causative relationship” between the protracted use of high heels and serious conditions including stress fractures bunions, lower back pain and posture change and increased energy demand, as energy consumption and heart rate increases with heel height. The Government response was positive, and it has agreed to review equality issues in a forthcoming parliamentary session in March 2017.

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Despite the long-term health effects resulting from wearing high heels, some women still believe that wearing high heels at work should be required. For them, wearing high heels give a woman source of power and a higher status at work. Yet should it be REQUIRED or just recommended?

What is happening in the U.K reminds me of the Louisiana Law on “separate but equal” which had existed for decades, until it was declared unconstitutional by the United States Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education[12]. Is it fair to subject women to harsh and stringent dress code rules than men? They are equal because they got a chance to be employed, but treated separately because of sex. Here, women are clearly held to a separate and unequal treatment than their male counterparts.

Roman Msaki is currently a 2L student at University of Baltimore. He has a LL. B from the University of Dar-es-Salaam (Tanzania), a post-graduate diploma in legal practice from the Law School of Tanzania, and a LL.M in the Law of the United States from the University of Baltimore. He has an interest in international law due to participating in the Philip C. Jessup International Moot Court Competition in 2012 for his university in Tanzania. Since then, he has regularly served as a Jessup judge in both regional rounds (Kenya, Uganda and Ghana) and the international rounds, held annually in Washington D.C. Last semester, he was a research assistant to Prof. Nienke Grossman. He is a member of the International Law Society, Immigration Law Society, International Law Student Association and American Bar Association. His main areas of interest in international law are: International humanitarian law and use of force.

[1] Smith, E.O. High Heels and Evolution: Natural Selection, Sexual Selection and High Heels; Journal of Psychology, Evolution and Gender pg. 254, December 1999. Available at: eosmith.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/JournalArticle30.pdf. (Last visited January 29th).

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4]  See for instance: www.walkamileinhershoes.org/ ; www.walkamileinhershoes.org/calendar.html accessed on 29th January 17.

[5] PWC stands for “Pricewaterhouse Coopers”.

[6] For her short interview see: http://www.bbc.com/news/business-38737300 accessed on 29th January 17.

[7] Ibid.

[8]  See: https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/129823; Accessed on 29th January

[9] Supra: note 4

[10] See: www.forbes.com/…/high-heels-and-workplace-dress-codes-urgent-action-needed-say..  Last viewed on 29th January.

[11]The report can be viewed at: http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/petitions-committee/news-parliament-2015/high-heels-and-workplace-dress-codes-report-published-16-17/?utm_source=petition&utm_campaign=129823&utm_medium=email&utm_content=reportstory, Accessed on 29th January 17.

[12] 347 U.S. 483 (1954).

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The Right Not to Work

Robert Steininger 

In the growing age of globalization and the rise in the use of technology, many have difficulties disconnecting from work. Smartphones have replaced the computer, the newspaper, the telephone, and much more. We are always connected, and that connection is just as tied to our employer as it is to our personal lives. Companies are starting to realize that their employees health and production have been negatively effected. One country has taken the initial steps necessary to reestablish the wall between employees’ personal and work life.[i]

On May 10, 2016, the French government used a constitutional provision to push through the El Khomri law. The law is named after Labor Minister Myriam El Khomri. Many provisions in the law were seen to benefit employers at the expense of employees, and therefore not welcomed by the French people. However, the most well liked article had the employees’ needs in mind. The law went into effect on January 1, 2017, in which France now requires employers to negotiate what rights their employees have to ignore work emails and other forms of communication. While the idea is commendable and its expected effects laudable, the complete lack of an enforceability mechanism in the law is an issue but that does not take away from the effect it can have on employees.

The right not to disconnect requires employers to negotiate what those specific rights would be for their employees, however, if the employer fails to do so, or breaks the terms of that right there is no mechanism to penalize the employer. This leaves employees in an odd place, they have a right but no means to enforce that right. It will be interesting to see if courts will take action if case is brought.

 

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For the rest of the world, however, employees still have to dread whether that vibrating phone is a friend or their employer, which can increase their stress levels. This stress can lead to what experts are calling “digital exhaustion.”[iii] Employers have taken this researched and asked themselves to consider the effect that being tied to your email can have on the overall productivity of that employee. For example, the productivity levels in the United Kingdom are poor not only because U.K. citizens work the longest hours in Europe but also due to the fact that U.K. citizens are biggest users smart devices.[iv] Britons work an average of eight and half hours a day, which equates to 1677 average annual hours with £18.64 hourly productivity.[v] A Luxembourger, by comparison, works about 1643 average annual hours, with £45.71 hourly productivity.[vi]

While the average annual hours are relatively close, the hourly productivity numbers are drastically different. This could be because not only do Britons work longer hours, but also cannot disconnect from work once they leave. Although this study was looking at the number hours worked, it could be interesting to see how many hours Britons work when not on the clock. I suspect the average annual hours would rise and the amount hourly productivity would decrease even more. However, France and England are not the only countries facing this dilemma.

 

steininger_blog1_photo2[vii]

In 2015, a Japanese company, Dentsu, an employee committed suicide after working over 105 overtime hours in a month.[viii] In response, Tokyo’s governor ordered government employees to end their day by 8 PM.[ix] Additionally, Dentsu has since barred workers from putting in more than 65 hours of overtime a month. Japan may need to follow suit with France’s law to help further disconnect their over worked employees.

This issue of needing to disconnect can affect more than the happiness of the employees. In South Korea, employees are working so much that they are not taking time to have families. Thus, in response South Korea’s Ministry of Health introduced a monthly Family Day, where the office lights are turned off at 7 PM to encourage staff either to spend time with their families or to use that time to create a family. The Ministry had the goal of increasing South Korea low birth rate.[x]

  As globalization continues and as we stay more connected than ever, the labor laws of countries need to adapt. Employees are spending all their time increasing the profits of their employer without seeing added benefits for that work. Overall, countries need to realize that their citizenry are not there to be cogs in the machine, but to build their lives as they see fit, which means being able to have lives outside their employment.

Robert Steininger is a third year law student at the University of Baltimore School of Law.  (Candidate for J.D., May 2017).  He holds a Bachelors of Arts in Linguistics with a minor in Japanese from the University at Buffalo – SUNY.  As part of his international law studies, he took part in a winter study abroad program in Curaçao taking classes in European Union Economic law and Comparative Confession law.  He also studied in Japan at Konan University while completing his undergraduate degree. In addition to being a CICL fellow, Robert currently serves as the Volume V Managing Editor for the University of Baltimore’s Journal of International Law and the President of OUT Law.  He is also a Maryland Rule 19-217 Student Attorney with the Immigrant Rights Clinic. He is currently a Law Clerk at the American Federation of Government Employees, AFL-CIO.

 

[i] France ‘Right to Disconnect’ Law: Do We Need Rules to Reclaim Personal Time?, http://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/france-right-disconnect-law-do-we-need-rules-reclaim-personal-n704366

[ii] http://www.cultofmac.com/253917/apples-iphone-repair-guides/.

[iii] Id.

[iv] France ‘Right to Disconnect’ Law: Do We Need Rules To Reclaim Personal Time?

http://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/france-right-disconnect-law-do-we-need-rules-reclaim-personal-n704366

[v] The Most Productive Countries in the World Also Have the Shortest Work Days, https://www.indy100.com/article/the-most-productive-countries-in-the-world-also-have-the-shortest-work-days–ZJWJ1Vvw8Pb

[vi] Id.

[vii] JAMIE GRILL VIA GETTY IMAGES

[viii] France’s ‘Right to Disconnect’ and 4 Other Countries Trying to Improve Work-Life Balance, http://time.com/4620532/countries-work-life-balance/.

[ix] Id.

[x] Id.