With summer fast approaching appropriate summer dress codes are back in the spotlight. Frequent discussion takes place regarding the degree to which an employer can determine what an employee is permitted to wear. Inappropriate work attire can be problematic to deal with for employers.  What is appropriate summer work attire in a given workplace, and who gets to decide that? The Ontario Human Rights Commission has provided guidance to employers on this thorny issue. One suggestion that can help an employer navigate the subjectivity involved in setting dress codes is to permit staff to choose from clothing options, including pants, that are comparable in terms of style, comfort, practicality and coverage, regardless of sex or gender(1).

It is not illegal for employers to impose dress codes, provided they do not violate the Ontario Human Rights Code.  Dress code requirements that negatively impact an employee based on sex violate human rights laws.  For example, the Ontario Human Rights Commission advises against including grooming or appearance rules or expectations for women that are more onerous than those for men, or that are sexualized or based on stereotypical ideas of female attractiveness.

It’s important to remember that even when the employer is not instituting a discriminatory dress policy, employees may still complain if it hasn’t been communicated effectively. Using tact and avoiding assumptions about “proper” male or female attire is key.  The Ontario Human Rights Commission advises that employers should Include processes for handling dress code-related accommodation requests and complaints.

Written with the assistance of Milomir Strbac, summer student. 

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