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OHRC calls for an end to sexualized workplace dress codes that discriminate

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March 8, 2016

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Toronto — In recognition of International Women’s Day, the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) is calling for an end to sexualized dress codes that discriminate against female and transgender employees. The OHRC makes the call in a policy position on gender-specific dress codes released today.

“Employers must make sure their dress codes don’t reinforce sexist stereotypes,” said OHRC Chief Commissioner Renu Mandhane. “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.

While International Women’s Day is an opportunity to celebrate the achievements of women, unequal treatment is still a daily challenge. This treatment is often visible in bars, restaurants and other services that require women to dress in high heels, tight dresses, low-cut tops and short skirts. These dress codes persist across the restaurant industry, despite human rights decisions that have found them to be discriminatory. They may make employees more vulnerable to sexual harassment, contribute to discriminatory work environments and exclude people based on sex, gender identity or expression and creed.

“Excellent customer service doesn’t have a cup size,” said Kathy Laird, Executive Director of the Human Rights Legal Support Centre. “I hope women will call us for legal help if cleavage is deemed an essential skill in their workplace.”

The OHRC provides resources and policy guidelines on human rights and dress codes online.

People who believe that their workplace’s dress code or uniform discriminates against them 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). The HRLSC provides free legal services to people facing discrimination.

Discriminatory dress codes are just one area where there is a significant risk of discrimination. The OHRC continues to work on other issues facing women and transgender people in Ontario. Go to our website for information on the OHRC’s work on sexual and gender-based harassment, violence against Indigenous women (including our call for an inquiry into Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women) and pay equity.

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For more information, contact:

Vanessa Tamburro
Information Officer, Ontario Human Rights Commission