The decision to wear high heels at work will be firmly in the hands of employees, not employers, under an Ontario Liberal MPP’s proposed changes to the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

Cristina Martins is introducing a private member’s bill on Tuesday, aimed at protecting workers from being forced to wear unsafe footwear under workplace dress codes or uniform requirements.

Martins feels the current rules are too narrowly focused on specific workplaces, such as industrial jobsites and health care facilities.

She told CTV News Channel that her proposal aims to expand government footwear provisions further, into the province’s massive service sector, for example.

“This is not a new issue,” she said Tuesday. “I have staff that have worked in the food and hospitality sector and have experienced first-hand, or witnessed first-hand, colleagues having to wear high heels and undergoing foot pain and injuries.”

James Hill, the president of the Ontario Podiatric Medical Association (OPMA), says his organization sees “a lot of less than optimal choices” when it comes to footwear within Ontario’s workforce, and notes that wearing high heels causes a higher incidence of bunions, musculoskeletal pain and injury than those who do not wear them.

Women are said to outnumber men two-to-one among those seeking treatment for foot pain and deformities.

“If there are certain standards in place that we can be helpful in implementing, I think it benefits everybody,” he told CTV Toronto.

Martins said the response to her proposal has been “overwhelming” and “very, very positive” so far, though she admits she has yet to hear from employers on the issue.

While bar and restaurant staff working long hours in high heels has become the focal point of Martins’ plan, she said the goal is safer work conditions for all Ontarians.

“It will tackle all workplaces. We’re not talking about any one particular sector,” she said.

Martins’ bill comes amid a broader push towards stronger employee rights regarding dress codes and uniforms.

In a policy paper examining gender-specific dress codes last year, the Ontario Human Rights Commission said women who work in restaurants and bars should not be forced to wear high heels, short skirts, and low-cut tops.

“These dress codes are and always have been gendered,” Martins said, speaking at Queen’s Park. “Only women are expected to risk their personal safety to meet these unfair dress codes.”

Toronto-based employment lawyer Lior Samfiru said there are already mechanisms in place in Ontario for employees to fight back against perceived gender-based discrimination in the workplace. However, under the current framework, an employee’s right to refuse to work in such cases is typically tied to a successful human rights claim.

Samfiru expects more targeted legislation, like Martins’ proposed reforms, will better equip those who feel victimized to take action.

“It gives an immediate and direct ability to refuse work, to refuse to wear those high heels, without the employer being able to do anything,” he told CTV News Channel. “I don’t think too many people are going to object to it coming into law.”

Ontario would not be the first province to ban mandatory high heels in the workplace. B.C. adopted similar legislation earlier this year.

Samfiru anticipates more jurisdictions will follow suit and pass similar reforms as the issue of gender bias in the workplace continues to gain momentum.

“We are going to see other province and jurisdictions catching up. It’s really the old-fashioned way of doing things, uniforms for women and uniforms for men, and they are not the same,” he said. “That is gone.”

With files from CTV Toronto and The Canadian Press