Not for much longer… Last month, Ontario Liberal MPP Cristina Martins’ bill to ban mandatory high heels in the workplace sped through the legislature. The bill, titled the Putting Your Best Foot Forward Act, 2017 passed first reading on October 17, 2017, second reading on October 19, 2017, and has been referred to the standing committee. I was recently interviewed for CBC Radio regarding the proposed bill of banning high heels in the workplace.
Proposed Amendments to the OHSA
The Bill would make amendments to the Occupational Health and Safety Act (“OHSA”) to prohibit employers from requiring employees to wear footwear that is not appropriate to the protection required for the employee’s work, or that does not allow the employee to safely perform his or her work.
Specifically, the Bill would amend section 26 of the OHSA by adding the following:
26(4) An employer shall not require an employee to wear footwear that,
(a) is not of a design, construction and material appropriate to the protection required for the employee’s work; or
(b) does not allow the employee to safely perform his or her work.
Human Rights and Dress Codes
I think by now we all know that wearing high heels is not good for our bodies. If you had any doubt check out this Huffington Post article for some gruesome details. While it is generally a violation of the Ontario Human Rights Code to require employees to dress differently based on gender, it is no secret that many businesses in the service industry require female employees to wear sexualized outfits. This is discriminatory because they do not require the same of male employees. Check out this CBC news article for more on this.
The Ontario Human Rights Commission advises as follows with respect to gender specific dress codes:
- Female employees should not be expected to meet more difficult requirements than male employees;
- Female employees should not be expected to dress in a sexual way in order to attract clients; and
- Employers should be able to prove that any sex-based differences with respect to dress codes are legitimately linked to the requirements of the job – if they are not, they are likely discriminatory.
Dress codes that require female employees, and not male employees, to wear heels are thus already likely in violation of human rights law.
What Type of Dress Code is Acceptable?
Dress code policies should be flexible and specific to business needs. They should not differentiate based on sex, gender identity, race, disability, gender expression or religious faith. Employees should be able to choose from this range of options without pressure or coercion. Under the new Bill employers will also not be able to require employees to wear footwear not appropriate to the protection required for the employee’s work, or that does not allow the employee to safely perform his or her work. If the Bill becomes law, which it is expected to, employers currently requiring employees to wear heels, male or female, will need to update their policies.