The Ontario Human Rights Commission just released a new report—timed to coincide with International Women’s Day—stating that several major restaurant chains, including The Keg Steakhouse and Bar, Earl’s Kitchen and Bar and Joey Restaurants, have taken steps to eliminate workplace dress codes that require female servers to bus tables and carry trays in heels, tight skirts and loads of makeup.
The OHRC had called out more than 25 restaurant chains that require such dress codes after numerous stories about dresses “so tight you can see your underwear through it” and other sexualized “uniforms” surfaced in late 2015 and 2016.
“Employers get away with exploiting people or maintaining questionable conditions of employment because people need the jobs,” said an unnamed server quoted in the just-released report. Other servers who spoke to the OHRC noted that their workplaces financially penalized women for not wearing heels, or for not having appropriately-done hair and makeup.
Initially, the OHRC had responded to these claims by releasing a policy paper in March 2016 which noted that dress codes which require female employees to dress in a “sexualized or gender-specific way… may violate Ontario’s Human Rights Code.” At the time, the OHRC also contacted a number of restaurant chains to outline what is NOT OK when it comes to workwear requirements.
“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 in a statement. “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 2017 report summarizes these efforts and explains that all of the restaurant chains contacted by the OHRC have either developed new policies or amended existing ones to comply with the concerns around gender-based dress codes.
In Ontario, an estimated one in five Canadians between 15 and 24 work in the restaurant industry, and according to Statistics Canada a majority of servers, hosts and bartenders in the province are female.
While the report may feel like a win, the OHRC says it’s still too early to celebrate the end of sexism in the service industry. Changing policies is the first step, but these policies still need to be put into practice, and a culture must be created where employees feel able to speak out if they believe their rights have been violated—without fear of losing their jobs.
If you feel like your workplace dress code violates your human rights, file a complaint using your company’s internal process or send an application to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario.