Time to ditch dress codes that sex­u­al­ize work­ers

EM­PLOY­MENT LAW Em­ploy­ers ad­vised they should give wide range of cloth­ing op­tions

The Hamilton Spectator - - CANADA & WORLD - Ed Can­ning prac­tises labour and em­ploy­ment law with Ross & McBride LLP, in Hamil­ton, rep­re­sent­ing both em­ploy­ers and em­ploy­ees. You can email him at ecan­ning@rossm­cbride.com

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.

ED CAN­NING

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