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End sexualized workplace dress codes that discriminate

Many restaurants and bars still require women to dress in high heels, tight dresses, low-cut tops and short skirts. Human rights decisions have found these policies and practices to be discriminatory. They make employees more vulnerable to sexual harassment, contribute to discriminatory work environments and exclude people based on sex, gender identity or expression and creed.

The OHRC’s policy statement says that female employees should not be expected to meet more difficult requirements than male employees, and they should not be expected to dress in a sexualized way to attract clients.

When releasing this statement on International Women’s Day, OHRC Chief Commissioner Renu Mandhane called for an end to sexualized dress codes. “Employers must make sure their dress codes don’t reinforce sexist stereotypes. They send the message that an employee’s worth is tied to how they look. That’s not right, and it could violate the Ontario Human Rights Code.

Statement on Sexual Harassment Awareness Week June 1-7, 2015

This statement stressed that sexual harassment is a critical issue in Ontario and noted the importance of conversations about its root causes, its impacts, how to prevent it, and how to address it when it occurs.

From CBC.CA News, March 10, 2016:

The Ontario Human Rights Commission released a statement on International Women’s Day March 8 calling for an end to gender-specific dress codes, stating that those policies discriminate against female and transgendered employees.

In an interview on CBC Radio’s Edmonton AM, Cate Simpson, a spokesperson for Earls, said the change was made after months of consultation.

“We definitely reacted to the Ontario Human Rights Commission; we were unaware that was considered discriminatory.”

Women cannot be denied training and promotion due to systemic sex discrimination: Sjaarda v. Ottawa Police Service

In December 2015, a settlement was reached with the Ottawa Police in Sjaarda v. Ottawa Police Service, a case that alleged a female police officer was denied training, job placement and promotion opportunities because of her family status, sex and maternity leaves. The OHRC intervened at the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario to address systemic barriers to promotion and advancement that women can face. 

As a result of the settlement, the Ottawa Police will conduct a systemic review of its workforce demographics, policies and procedures. The aim is to ensure that female police officers, particularly officers who take maternity leaves and have family caregiving responsibilities, have equal opportunity to be represented at all levels and ranks.

“While my family and I have been at the centre of this human rights case, it is important to acknowledge the other officers who have been marginalized”, said Constable Barb Sjaarda. “Many officers have experienced reprisal after coming forward with issues similar to mine, with some female colleagues going so far as to quit the profession out of frustration. A change in policing culture, encouraged by policies that respect human rights, can only be viewed as a positive step forward,” she continued.

Elder care and the test for family status discrimination: Misetich v. Value Village

In this case at the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, Ms. Misetich alleged that she was discriminated against when her employer proposed to accommodate her workplace injury by providing her with temporary modified duties that involved a shift change from her day shift to the night shift. The proposed accommodation and accompanying shift change interfered with her eldercare responsibilities.

The OHRC intervened and made submissions about the appropriate legal test for discrimination based on family status, arguing that the HRTO should not adopt the test for discrimination based on family status set out by the Federal Court of Appeal in Attorney General of Canada v. Johnstone, 2014. We submitted that this test, which includes the requirement that the responsibilities in question amount to “legal responsibilities,” is overly onerous and particularly inappropriate where eldercare is at issue. Eldercare does not typically involve legal responsibilities.

The OHRC’s goal in intervening in this case was to advance an expansive interpretation of the Code. The HRTO’s decision is currently pending.

The OHRC presented a webinar on preventing sexual and gender-based harassment, in partnership with the Human Resources Professionals Association.

2015 Summit on Sexual Violence and Harassment

At this summit hosted by the Province of Ontario, Renu Mandhane delivered a plenary address on taking a human rights approach for preventing and responding to sexual violence and harassment and noted that “It is not an exaggeration to say that experiences of sexual harassment and violence can completely alter the course of one’s life.” (Full speech available at

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