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New OHRC report says sexualized dress codes “not on the menu”

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March 8, 2017

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To coincide with International Women’s Day, the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) has released a new report that outlines commitments made by many of Ontario’s largest and most well-known restaurant chains to eliminate discriminatory dress codes for restaurant staff. Not on the Menu: Inquiry report on sexual and gender-based dress codes in Ontario’s restaurants outlines findings from an inquiry into dress codes at certain restaurants operating across Ontario.

Following the release one year ago of the OHRC’s Policy position on sexualized and gender-based dress codes, the OHRC wrote to the companies, informed them about dress code concerns and obligations under the Human Rights Code, and asked them to commit to taking steps to comply. The response from the companies was encouraging with all of them either developing new policies or amending existing ones. In general, companies expressed support for addressing dress codes, sexual harassment and other human rights concerns in their workplaces.

While changing policies is a good first step, the OHRC encourages companies to take the next step – putting these policies into practice on the ground and making sure that employees have the opportunity to bring forward complaints if they believe their rights have been violated.

While the inquiry focused on specific companies, all Ontario restaurants – and other employers – have a legal obligation to make sure their dress requirements comply with the Code.

“People who work in restaurants can be vulnerable to sexual harassment and discrimination because of the precarious nature of their work,” said OHRC Chief Commissioner Renu Mandhane. “After the release of our policy position, we decided to take the extra step of reaching out to restaurants because we heard that workers often didn’t feel empowered to raise their concerns due to fear of reprisal.”

The OHRC has developed tools to help comply with the Policy position and remove discriminatory barriers created by some dress codes. Not on the Menu, along with resources ranging from examples of problematic practices to a sample dress code policy, are available on the OHRC website.

The OHRC thanks Restaurants Canada and the Ontario Restaurant, Hotel and Motel Association for their cooperation in sharing OHRC resources with members, and helping to identify and address concerns.

People who believe that their workplace’s dress code or uniform is discriminatory can use their internal complaints process or file an application with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario (HRTO). To get legal advice and help in filing applications at the HRTO, contact the Human Rights Legal Support Centre (HRLSC), which provides free legal services to people facing discrimination.


Media contact:

Vanessa Tamburro
Senior Communications Advisor
Ontario Human Rights Commission