The Human Rights Commission of Ontario
("HRCO") very recently
clarified its stance on gender-specific dress codes by issuing a policy position on the subject. The
policy takes aim at sexualized dress codes found mainly in the
restaurant and bar industries. Of particular concern to the
HRTO were any formal or informal policies requiring women to wear
high heels, tight dresses, low-cut tops and short skirts.
While not legally binding, the policy states that employers must
"make sure that any uniform or dress code policy does not
undermine employees' dignity and right to fully take place in
the workplace because of Code grounds, including sex, gender
identity, gender expression and creed (religion)."
Specifically, women should not have more onerous dress requirements
than men and should not be expected to dress in a sexualized way
for the benefit of customers or clients.
The statements made by the HRCO do not represent a marked change
in policy, but merely a restatement of existing policy. These
same principles have been supported by human rights tribunal
decisions dating as far back as the 1980s.
The HRCO policy was issued before the implementation of planned
amendments to Ontario's Occupational Health and Safety
Act aimed at preventing sexual assault in the workplace.
With this restatement of HRCO policy and increased media attention on the subject, employers
should be careful when setting formal policy and informal
expectations regarding staff dress.
Written with the assistance of Markus Liik, articling
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