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Interview with the Chief Commissioner of the OHRC on gender specific dress code

With the Ontario Human Rights Commission’s recent position on gender-specific dress codes, and with the increase of attention in the news regarding bars and restaurants requiring women to wear high heels, low-cut tops and short skirts, I thought it would be beneficial for our readers to get Chief Commissioner Renu Mandhane’s take on the issue of gender specific and sexualized dress codes in the workplace, and what employers should be doing to ensure that their dress codes are in compliance with Ontario’s Human Rights Code.

 

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Three popular articles this week on HRinfodesk

Three popular articles this week on HRinfodesk deal with a new Ontario Act that addresses sexual harassment; an employer’s implementation of a dress code; and an FAQ in relation to general pay increases for employees who are on maternity leave.

 

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Ontario Human Rights Commission’s policy position on gender-specific dress codes

Can you think of a store, restaurant, or bar that appears to require women to wear low-cut tops, short skirts, tight dresses, or high heels when they go to work? Well, it might be wise for those employers to take another look at their dress code policy in light of the Ontario Human Rights Commission position on gender-specific dress code announced on International Women’s Day 2016 and the passing into law of occupational health and safety provisions protecting against workplace sexual harassment and violence. Under Bill 132, the OHSA’s definition of “workplace harassment” will be expanded to include “workplace sexual harassment.”

 

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Ban on blue jeans and shorts in the workplace: Unreasonable in the circumstances

In Canadian Union of Public Employees, Local 1716 v. British Columbia Assessment Authority, the union filed a policy grievance after a new management policy was put in place in the Kelowna office of the British Columbia Assessment Authority. The new policy banned the wearing of blue jeans or shorts in the office by all employees on days that they were not in the field in settings where jeans were appropriate, for example on farm locations.

 

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Do you agree that workplaces should have a dress code?

Human resources experts agree that employees appreciate knowing your expectations about how they should dress for work-if they exist. However, some managers and employers disagree with dress codes. One of our subscribers wondered what our readers think, so in a recent HRinfodesk poll, we asked, Do you agree that workplaces should have a dress code?

 

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Be prepared to justify employee dress code policies

Most people have experience with an employee uniform or dress code policy (mine is “business casual”). There are often very good reasons to have employees look or dress a certain way. It can assist with productivity, promote professionalism and branding, and ensure uniformity. As such, employees’ attire/appearance can be a legitimate concern for employers. However, to the extent that a policy has no rational connection to a business need or unduly infringes on an employee’s self expression, it may be successfully challenged by unions.

 

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Employers should think carefully before imposing a dress code

While employers may believe that they have a broad right to regulate what employees wear in the workplace, this is not the case. The question of what requirements an employer can impose on an employee’s appearance can actually be quite complex because the imposition of dress codes create a tension between an employee’s right to look the way they want and the employer’s business interest in regulating appearances. Unless an employer can provide an objective explanation of why the dress code is necessary, arbitrators typically find in favour of employees’ interests in self-expression.

 

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Most-viewed articles this week on HRinfodesk

The three most viewed articles on HRinfodesk this week deal with an employer’s dress code, if a criminal conviction can be viewed as a disability and how guetto comments in the workplace can be construed as discriminatory.

 

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Fashion faux pas – Dress code pitfalls

In addition to safety concerns, employers have a legitimate interest in prohibiting dress that detracts from their corporate image or offends customers. The common law principle is that dress codes must be reasonable, balancing the legitimate business interests of employers with the employees’ right to self-expression.

 

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Banning the right to wear a cross at work

An interesting human rights case is making its way to the European Court of Human Rights, where the British government is set to defend the right of employers to ban employees from wearing the cross at work as it is not a “requirement” of the Christian faith.

 

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Should employers be entitled to require that their employees have a certain ‘look’?

Recently, I posted a discussion topic in The Canadian HR Law Group on LinkedIn, which I moderate. It turned out to be one of a few recent topics that generated substantial interest and comment. As a result, I thought I would revisit the issue here, and I hope to hear from all of the First Reference readers.

 

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