3 Dress Code Guidelines in the Workplace

We’ve all heard stories in the media lately about schools dictating what their students could and could not wear, but what about employees? Do you have any rights regarding the clothes and undergarments you wear (or don’t wear) to work? Keep reading to find out a few of the laws surrounding dress code and employers. As always, if you have any questions, feel free to contact an employment lawyer for advice.

1. Sexualized and Gender-Specific Dress Requirements

Initially brought up in the media in November 2015, concerns were raised regarding restaurants that had dress codes that required female servers to wear tight dresses, high heels, short skirts, and/or low-cut tops to work. At that time, the Ontario Human Rights Commission came out with an updated statement about sexualized and gender-specific dress requirements. The OHRC put a call to action to employers to go over their dress codes and remove any discriminatory requirements that reinforce sexist and stereotypical notions about women.

There have been human rights decisions going back to the ‘80s finding dress requirements such as these to be a violation of human rights, but they continue. Employers who do not review and change discriminatory dress codes face lawsuits and human rights complaints.

2. Impacts of Dress Codes on Employees

Women are often sexually objectified, and the issue of discriminatory or sexualized dress codes only magnify the problem. These types of dress codes can reinforce sexist stereotypes and harm the dignity of the employees. Gender-specific dress codes can also exclude non-binary workers, some people who practice a certain religion, some racialized people, and trans people.

Making women to dress in a sexualized or discriminatory manner can lead to feelings of shame and being demeaned, and can also make women afraid of or to suffer from sexual harassment. Employees can feel like they are forced to agree to and adhere to these dress codes because they fear losing shifts, tips, or their job. In some cases, these rules can also have adverse health effects, such as the requirement to wear high heeled shoes for long periods of time.

Research conducted by the Ontario Human Rights Commission showed that sexual harassment and sex discrimination happens so often in the restaurant industry that it is seen as “part of the job” and that managers, staff, and customers might normalize this behaviour in an effort to minimize its effects.

Sexual harassment has long-lasting and severe effects on employees. It can decrease productivity, reduce morale, and contribute to PTSD, depression, and anxiety.

3. Rights of Employees

All workplaces must respect human rights laws; in other words, no one should have to go and get another job just because they don’t want to be discriminated against. People cannot be asked to give up their basic human rights just to keep or get a job. If a woman chooses to dress in a sexy fashion, and it’s within the employer’s dress code, that is different from an employer directly or indirectly telling her what she must wear.

Some women can choose to wear more revealing clothes if they are comfortable with it. The issue is when an employer imposes requirements that female employees wear gender-specific or sexualized clothing. Female workers shouldn’t have to meet more difficult requirements than their male co-workers, and shouldn’t be required to dress in a sexualized manner in order to attract clients.

If you have any questions or concerns about your employer’s dress code, contact an experienced employment lawyer for help.

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