Time to ditch dress codes that sexualize workers
EMPLOYMENT LAW Employers advised they should give wide range of clothing options
Even in 2017, employer dress codes are not always what they should be.
We fall too easily into old habits. Too often, dress codes are sexualized to the detriment of women and, in addition, they do not achieve the gender neutrality that human rights legislation requires.
Especially in the restaurant industry. A recent report out of the Ontario Human Rights Commission notes that hosts, bartenders and servers are predominantly female and more than one-third are women under the age of 24. Most often, the employment is precarious. Annoy the wrong person and your already part-time hours will start to dwindle, or disappear, or you will find yourself assigned shifts or sections that generate lower tips.
We all know the restaurants I am talking about. Any male staff you see are in pants and a shirt. Most, if not all, of the women workers are in high heels and skirts. Sometimes the dress code is an unwritten rule; sometimes it has been formalized. Some Neanderthals who see a woman presented to them in sexualized attire consider this an invitation to hit on them.
For many young women, the restaurant industry will be their first form of employment. Whether they stay in that career or move on to another, what will they come to expect of their role in the workplace if the first job they had involved presenting themselves in a sexualized way?
It is also worth noting that wearing high heels for an eight-hour shift, carrying heavy plates, can cause damage to your feet as well as chronic back pain. Some women would say that they dress and present themselves to maximize their tips and it is, of course, their right to do so as long as it is a choice they are making and not a requirement.
This is not just about sexualization; it’s also about gender issues. Dress codes that differentiate between men and women have an adverse effect on those who do not identify with the physical gender attributes with which they were born.
Transgender rights are now protected by the Ontario Human Rights Code. Coercing someone to dress in a manner that contradicts their internal identity is not only illegal, it’s harmful.
The Ontario Human Rights Commission has been reaching out to the restaurant industry. Some players in the industry have been receptive, and changes have been happening.
The commission has indicated that dress code/uniform policies should:
Allow for a range of dress/uniform options, for all staff in all front-of-house positions;
Not require any staff to wear sexualized, revealing or gender-stereotypical clothing;
Make sure that all staff can choose from clothing options, including pants, that are comparable in terms of style, comfort, practicality and coverage, regardless of sex or gender;
Offer uniform sizes that fit a wide range of body types;
Make all dress code options available by default, rather than only offering certain options by request;
Not include 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;
Allow for a range of hairstyles, and not require a specific hairstyle unless it is a legitimate requirement of the job (e.g. food preparation);
Specify that applicants or interviewees cannot be asked to identify what kind of uniform option they will choose to wear until they have been given an offer of employment;
Include processes for handling dress code-related accommodation requests and complaints.
These guidelines apply to any workplace, anywhere.
It is understandable that companies that derive their profit from providing face to face customer service are concerned about their brand and how it is presented.
Just as none of us would condone hiring only younger workers to promote a “chic” image, however, we cannot tolerate dress codes that discriminate against women or attempt to define someone’s gender expression.
This is a hard battle to fight against a long history in our culture of bias, but it will be won.
Ask someone under the age of 25. Most of them already get it.