Are employers legally permitted to establish dress codes at the workplace?

Are employers legally permitted to establish dress codes at the workplace?

Wearing a “work appropriate” outfit is a common expectation in most workplaces. An employee working in a corporate job will likely dress in something more modest and business-casual that will often be described as professional. This dress etiquette is expected from most employees, however, there are positions that have detailed dress codes that provide specific parameters on workwear. For example, restaurants often have dress codes outlining colour preferences, preferred garment styles, or even their definition of “acceptable” hem lines.

These guidelines could present legal problems if the rules distributed present harassment and discrimination issues. There can be cases where the dress codes sexualize women, constrain gender identities, insult religious beliefs etc.

In Ontario, employers are permitted to implement dress codes. However, according to the Ontario Human Rights Commission, if the dress code defies the Human Rights Code by compromising an employee’s “dignity” or limiting the employee’s involvement in the workplace based on sex, gender, race, ethnicity, age, disability, or religion, it would be violating the Code on the basis of discrimination and/or harassment. The dress code can violate the Code on multiple grounds. For example, one rule can both sexualize and defy the religious beliefs of the affected employee.

It is the responsibility of the employer, if they wish to establish dress codes at the workplace, to avoid restricting men and women on how they believe their employees should dress and think about how they can embrace all styles and preferences that are most comfortable for their employees. All employees should feel safe to openly share their identity and not feel forced to restrict themselves through the way they dress.

How can the employer ensure they are acting in accordance with the Code?

The OHRC provides a checklist for employers to review the parameters of their dress code. The OHRC outlines that a workplace dress code should be issued to everyone in the workplace and provide: a variety of uniform choices that are available to everyone, the ability for the employee to select a preferred type of garment, no clothing choices that sexualize employees, a wide range of sizing options, no clothing expectations that only burden women, a variety of hairstyle choices, a restraint from asking employees what dress code they would prefer during the interview process, and lastly, a resource to assist employees with matters involving the dress code.

If you an employee who believes they have experienced harassment or discrimination at the workplace, please contact KCY at LAW by filling in an online consultation request or contact us by phone at 905-639-0999 to book your consultation today.