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The OHRC’s initiative on sexualized and gender-based dress codes

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Under the Code, the OHRC works to identify, prevent and eliminate discrimination, and promote and advance human rights across the province. Our goal is to create an inclusive society where everyone is valued, treated with equal dignity and respect, and takes responsibility and action, so human rights are a lived reality. 

To achieve this goal, the OHRC uses its legislated powers, including policy development, public education, inquiries, applications to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario (HRTO), and interventions before the HRTO, other tribunals and in the courts. Establishing respectful, collaborative relationships and dialogue is central to the OHRC’s work and is key to both systemic change and fostering a culture of human rights accountability.

In recent years, there has been an increase in constructive public discourse on sexual harassment issues. In late 2015 and 2016, several people filed human rights complaints (called applications) at the HRTO, relating to sex and gender bias in restaurant dress codes for female staff. Concerns were also raised with the Ontario Ministry of Labour regarding clothing and shoe requirements.[16] The OHRC decided to use a range of its powers under the Code to help identify, address and prevent these problems through systemic changes in the industry.

In March 2016, the OHRC released its Policy position on sexualized and gender-specific dress codes (See Appendix B). OHRC policies provide guidance on applying the Code. The policies are based on case law, social science research and public consultation, are given great deference by courts and the HRTO, and are often cited in legal decisions. 

On June 23, 2016, the Canadian Association of Statutory Human Rights Agencies (CASHRA) wrote to the nationwide industry association, Restaurants Canada. CASHRA raised concerns about gender-specific and sexualized dress codes for restaurant workers across Canada, and expressed support for the OHRC’s actions and position on the issue.

After releasing its Policy position, the OHRC used its powers under the Code to:

  • Develop educational materials and tools for the restaurant industry about how dress codes may violate human rights protections relating to sex and other Code grounds, and how to remove and prevent barriers
  • Work cooperatively with restaurant associations to disseminate human rights information and tools, to increase awareness and spur proactive industry-wide change
  • Encourage industry leaders to identify and remove discriminatory dress code and grooming requirements and improve working conditions
  • Create a culture of respect, dignity and human rights compliance across the sector, and reduce the likelihood of complaints.

[16] Information received from a restaurant.

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