Is requiring high heels at work discrimination?

A UK parliamentary report has found women are often asked to wear high heels and make-up as part of sexist workplace dress codes.

The inquiry was launched after receptionist Nicola Thorp was sent home because she refused to wear heels on the job.

The agency required her to wear heels between two to five inches (five to 10 centimetres) high while on the job.

"If it is a big deal over nothing, let woman wear flat shoes," Ms Thorp says.

Like in the UK, in New Zealand it's illegal to discriminate against workers on the grounds of their sex, and that can extend to a dress code.

But legal experts will tell you it's not as simple as sneaker versus stilettos. 

"A requirement to dress in a clean and tidy and professional manner is obviously perfectly acceptable and can apply equally to men and woman," says employment law expert Kathryn Beck.

She says an add-on requiring for a woman to wear four-inch heels "probably isn't a reasonable requirement" for most jobs.

Ms Beck encourages employers to consider one thing: would you ask the same of a man?

"If the answer is no then in most circumstances that is going to be discrimination," she says.

Meanwhile in the UK, parliament is considering whether hefty fines might help change attitudes.