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Can employer impose a dress code and not violate the Human Rights Code?

QUESTION: My employees deal with the public and the image of our company is extremely important. We have a fairly strict dress code and I enforce it. Can I be accused of discrimination under the Ontario Human Rights Code?
 
ANSWER: As long as your dress code does not impose requirements that discriminate on the basis of age, sex, colour, creed, sexual orientation and a few other grounds, you need not worry. Insisting that women wear dresses would be discriminatory. Insisting that everyone wear business attire with some degree of modesty is not a contravention of the Code. Most dress codes are already sensitive to these issues and the chances of you running afoul of the law are slim.
 
Things can get more complicated. Let’s assume that you own a clothing store and you expect all of your employees to wear clothing from the store. One day a good employee shows up to work wearing a burka, dressed completely in dark clothing with only her eyes showing, and tells you that for religious reasons, this is her new outfit. If you can show the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal that your policy is reasonably necessary to fulfill legitimate work-related purposes, it may outweigh her religious rights. But then again, it may not. There is no case yet on this issue. Another question without an answer.
 
Ed Canning
Ed Canning
P: 905.572.5809
ecanning@rossmcbride.com