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Ongoing concerns and solutions

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Companies described many good practices and changes to policies. However, the responses also identified areas for improvement.

Grooming and accessories

Despite the OHRC’s input, two restaurants still have a requirement that hair be worn down – such as “completely down” with no hair clips or accessories. Even if not worded specifically about women, this requirement is likely to disproportionately affect women, and to affect staff differently based on other Code grounds in addition to sex or gender. Companies with this requirement may be vulnerable to human rights complaints.

While an employer may reasonably expect employees to present a well-groomed appearance, employees of any gender may have different lengths or textures of hair. Hair length and style preferences may relate to sex, gender expression, race, ancestry, ethnic origin, creed (religion) or other Code grounds.

Several restaurants indicated that they request that all staff with longer hair, regardless of gender, style it so that it stays behind their shoulders, or tie it back, to avoid actual or perceived contact with food.

Some companies’ makeup and jewelry guidelines still present concerns because they imply a gendered preference in their appearance guidelines. One company told the OHRC that it doesn’t require jewelry or makeup for women, but its policy implies a preference for jewelry when it says “stylish necklaces are a great way to show fashion sense.” Another company addressed this concern by amending a statement that said that makeup is a “big part of being put together,” to clarify that those who choose to wear makeup should not overdo it.

The OHRC has stated that a range of hairstyles should be allowed and that makeup, nail polish and jewelry – traditional expectations of women – are not related to a person’s ability to perform the job. Any rule or restriction that has a different impact based on sex, gender expression or other Code grounds, and does not relate to the requirements of the position, may violate the Code.

Many companies involved in the inquiry provided policies with hair, grooming, and accessory guidelines that appear more inclusive and gender-neutral, such as:

  • Allowing hair to be held back or up, with guidelines about the colour and style of hair accessories, if desired:
    • for example, some companies specify that accessories should be: minimal and unobtrusive, not decorative in nature, similar to hair colour, or specific colours, such as metallic or company brand colours
  • Having one set of hairstyle, grooming and accessory/jewelry requirements or policies for all staff in front-of-house positions
  • Stating clearly that makeup, nail polish and/or jewelry are not required for any position, and only then providing guidance advising staff of restrictions or suggestions for people who choose to wear them
  • Setting out jewelry restrictions, but allowing certain items and/or referring to the right to request accommodation based on Code grounds:
    • some specify that wedding bands, medic-alert bracelets and items required as religious articles of faith are allowed or can be accommodated.

See Appendix C for a sample gender-neutral dress code template.

Gender-specific policies

There appears to be a strong tendency to maintain separate policies for female and male staff relating to grooming, accessories, shoes and clothing. While this is not inherently discriminatory, setting out separate policies can result in duplication, and can result in non-equivalent options that may be discriminatory. It can create pressure on female staff to wear traditionally feminine-gendered clothing, or on all staff to conform to gendered clothing expectations based on sex that may not reflect their own gender identity.

The examples below are of non-equivalent dress options where restaurants had separate policies for women and men in the same position:

  • Men wear a long-sleeved shirt, while women wear a close-fitting knit top, scoop-neck top or t-shirt, or a top or dress that is sleeveless
  • Button-up shirts are not listed as an option for women but are listed for men in the same position
  • In several restaurants, uniform colour options differentiated between front-of-house staff by gender, rather than by position
  • Some dress codes for women list skirt and dress options first, and the pants option last, which may imply that wearing pants is the least preferred option
  • Tight, “skinny-jean” options for women and less form-fitting options for men
  • Shoe requirements such as a 1½ to 2-inch wedge heel for women, with no heel style or height specification for men.

Companies should make sure that unconscious biases and gender expectations do not shape their dress code requirements. They can achieve this by establishing gender-neutral dress code requirements/options for all staff in a position, and allow each employee to choose what is appropriate for them from the available option(s) (see Appendix C for an example).  

Implied preference for certain gender-specific clothing

In some cases, the order in which clothing or shoes are described or depicted, the images used, or the language of the policy implies a preference for gender-specific items.

Many companies provide images of clothing and shoe options for staff. A visual guide can be helpful, but in some cases may imply a preference for a more revealing or stereotypically feminine look for women. The clothing options depicted, and their order, matter. For example, the following approaches can imply a preference for gender-stereotypical dress:

  • Images of women staff in dresses or short skirts, with long hair and/or costume jewelry, rather than the more gender-neutral options
  • Images of shoes for women staff that all have high or narrow heels, with no flat shoes equivalent to those depicted for men
  • Language stating that makeup or costume jewelry is a “great way to express yourself” or to “show your fashion sense,” or “a big part of being put together,” without saying that it is optional.

Ideas to address these concerns include

  • Make sure that lists or images of clothing options do not overemphasize more feminine or revealing options
  • Provide one shoe description for all front-of-house staff
  • Make sure that any images provided reflect the full range of comparable options available to all staff, such as:
    • images of female staff wearing more gender-neutral options and coverage equivalent to male staff, such as pants, button-up shirts, long-sleeved tops and blazers
    • examples of flat and/or lace-up shoes for all staff
  • Language that encourages wearing makeup, jewelry or nail polish should be removed, and any guidelines about these items should state that they are optional.

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