Published on March 21, 2016 | by Erika Graham     Photography by Chris Goldberg


Sexualized dress codes a human rights violation: OHRC

The Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) has released a statement that calls to end sexualized dress codes in the workplace.

In a policy paper released on Women’s Day, the OHRC said, “while International Women’s Day is an opportunity to celebrate the achievements of women, unequal treatment is still a daily challenge.”

The commission said many women in the service industry are still required to abide by uniform policies that do not apply to their male co-workers, and according to the OHRC, these policies could be violating the Ontario Human Rights Code.

Sahira Perez-Vela, a server at a popular roadhouse chain, said she is required to wear a black dress and three-inch black heels at work, while her male co-workers wear dress pants, a dress shirt and flat shoes.

“We have a bunch of Band-Aids in the back and it’s not because people get cut a lot. It’s because people get blisters from their shoes,” said Perez-Vela, who has been working at the chain for over three years.

As for hair and makeup, Perez-Vela said that she once heard a manager tell a colleague that she should go put makeup on because she looked tired.

But Vanessa Tamburro, Ontario Human Rights Education and Change Specialist, said dress codes are not the only issue women face in the service industry.

“It’s also about sexual harassment,” she said.

Rachel Wharton, a Toronto bartender, said most of the sexual harassment she experiences comes from her male customers.

“We work in an industry where your financial position is based on how much a stranger likes you,” she said.

“So when someone is hitting on you or making gross remarks, a lot of the time it’s easier to just smile and laugh than to make a scene.”

Wharton is required to wear a kilt at work, while her male co-workers are told to wear black dress pants.

But Wharton said she is less concerned with being sexually objectified and more concerned with being taken seriously.

“It’s a childish uniform so people treat us as lesser beings. Especially compared to our male counterparts.”

Perez-Vela also said she receives sexist remarks from her male customers, including catcalling and even being asked to take photos with them.

But Perez-Vela said she has not considered filing any complaints or speaking to a manager because she is weary of the process.

She added she wouldn’t even know how to complain, as she wasn’t sure of the process.

Tamburro suggested, “write down what is happening…to build a case and talk to trusted co-workers and compare experiences.”

“If that doesn’t work, write a letter.”

Tamburro said she is already seeing positive change in Ontario.

“There is an online petition that the public has put together and we have seen over 22 thousand signatures already.”

This Change.org petition calls to “stop sexist dress codes in restaurants” and specifically targets popular chain restaurants in Canada.

“We will continue to put our message out there,” said Tamburro. “Hopefully there will be a continued positive response.”



If you are unsure if your case qualifies as sexual harassment, the OHRC has posted a list of examples on their website.





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