MPs have been “shocked” to hear evidence about the widespread discrimination that female workers encounter in the workplace as a result of the dress codes being imposed by some employers.

The House of Commons is currently conducting an inquiry into the issue, amidst concerns that too many women are being affected by outdated or unacceptable policies.

Hundreds of stories have been submitted as part of the investigation, including examples of employees being ordered to wear high heels and one case in which a woman was told that she would have to dye her hair blonde.

The investigation has prompted calls for current protections to be made more effective and tougher penalties to be introduced for those businesses which try and enforce clearly discriminatory rules.

Helen Jones, who chairs Parliament’s Petitions Committee, said: “It is fair to say that what we found shocked us.

“We found attitudes that belonged more [to the] – I was going to say 1950s but probably the 1850s might be more accurate – than the 21st century.”

“[The inquiry] has exposed widespread discrimination against women, stereotypical views of what women should look like and dress like and behave like. It’s shown up out-dated attitudes towards women in the workplace, and it has shown that constantly women are belittled when they try to challenge those attitudes.”

Fellow MP Gill Furniss was similarly critical and said that the issue is particularly close to her heart. She revealed that her own daughter had suffered a fracture as a result of the footwear she was required to wear for her job in retail.

“Quite literally adding insult to injury, she was denied any compensation or sick pay as she wasn’t on the payroll for long enough,” she added.

Equalities Minister Caroline Dinenage implored employers to re-examine their dress codes to ensure they were fit for the present day and said she had contacted major trade bodies about the concerns to have come to light.

“We have had anti-discrimination laws in this area for more than 40 years, yet it is a safe bet that these sort of dress codes have existed under the radar,” she added.