The Ontario Human Rights Commission (the “Commission”) recently released the findings from its inquiry on sexualized and gender-specific dress codes in a report entitled, Not on the Menu: Inquiry report on sexualized and gender-based dress codes in Ontario’s restaurants. A series of complaints from restaurant workers prompted the Commission to release a policy position in March 2016 and initiate a human rights inquiry in July 2016, with the aim of proactively reducing problematic practices across the province.
In the report, the Commission reminds employers that sexualized and gender-based dress codes may be discriminatory. While employers are free to have dress codes, they must not offend the Ontario Human Rights Code (the “Code”). Any sex-based differences in dress code must be legitimately linked to the requirements of the job.
The Commission notes that employers should be cautious not to exert pressure on employees to comply with gendered expectations, for example, by mandating heels, makeup, jewellery or revealing clothing. Although the Commission’s own policies and publications are not law, they do have a persuasive effect on tribunals.
According to the report, many employers have taken positive steps to ensure their policies are compliant with the Code, some even instituting confidential e-mail addresses and hotlines for employees to raise questions and concerns. The report also includes several tools and resources for employers, such as sample policies and checklists.
Since all Ontario employers have an obligation to comply with the Code, this report should serve as an important reminder that dress codes must be inclusive and non-discriminatory.
Written with the assistance of Jessica Warwick, articling student.