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Women speak out against workplace dress codes

By Rachel Stark [1]

BELLEVILLE – More women are coming forward to report discriminatory dress codes in their workplace according to the Ontario Human Rights Commission [2].


Jade Beggs was told changing her appearance would help her with sales. Photo by Jade Beggs

Jade Beggs, a former retail employee, said she was encouraged to wear makeup and flirt to sell more credit cards at the register.

“I was told by my supervisor that maybe if I put on a bit of makeup before my shift that I would be getting more sales. I was also told that it wouldn’t hurt to flirt with the people if I thought it would help the chance of selling,” she said.

Michaela Hetherington said she had a similar experience when she worked in retail.

“When I worked in the cosmetics department I had to wear full makeup everyday. I had to dress nice, have my hair in a pony tail which I hated, and I was told to target male shoppers and flirt with them. Touch their hands, draw attention to my face and other aspects of my body,” she said.

Lisa Benoit, Loyalist’s site co-ordinator of Community Employment Services [3], said some dress codes are more targeted towards women.

“There have been many high profile cases in which dress codes for women have become highly sexualized, more predominantly in the restaurant and service industry. Employers must be aware that this in fact may violate the Ontario Human Rights Code,” she said.

Benoit added employers also target women when looking for candidates.

“While there have been great advancements in closing this gender gap, there is still work to be done. Women continue to make up the majority of part-time workers and minimum wage earners,” she said.

Vanessa Tamburro, information officer of the OHRC, said a dress code set to meet the need of a business, should not cause a woman to feel uncomfortable wearing it.

“When setting out dress codes to meet business needs, employers should not rely on stereotypes or sexist ideas of how men and women should look. They should think about a range of clothing options. Dress code policies need to be flexible and include everyone. Employees should be able to choose from this range of options without pressure or coercion.”

Examples of designing non-discriminatory dress codes can be found in the OHRC’s publication, Human Rights at Work [4], as well as examples of how to know if a dress code is discriminatory.