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Can my employer tell me what to wear at work?

Question
Can my employer tell me what to wear at work?
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The Human Rights Legal Support Centre (HRLSC)
CLEO (Community Legal Education Ontario / Éducation juridique communautaire Ontario)
Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC)

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Can my employer tell me what to wear at work?
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Reviewed: 
June 11, 2018
Answer

Most employers have rules that apply to everyone in the workplace equally. Your workplace can have a dress code or uniforms for employees.

A workplace might have dress codes that are based on their “culture” or “brand.” For example, a retail employer might ask employees to wear blue jeans and white shirts on the sales floor.

But dress codes need to be fair and flexible for everyone, regardless of their sex, gender identity, gender expression, race, disability, or religious faith. If your employer makes you dress in a way that goes against your human rights, that might be discrimination.

It might also be discrimination if you had to quit your job or you were fired because of the dress code or because you spoke up about your rights.

Sexualized and gender-specific dress codes

You should not be expected to attract clients by wearing sexualized clothing. Female employees should not have a dress code that is significantly different than the dress code for male employees.

For example, when only female employees are expected to wear short skirts, low-cut tops, tight clothing, high heels, or makeup, it can create a work environment that is unsafe, unhealthy, and unfair. This may be discrimination.

Dress codes and religion  

Your religion might make it hard to follow the dress code. For example, a workplace might have a rule that no one can wear a head covering. This would create a conflict for a person who wears a head covering as part of their religion.

Accommodation

The law says that your employer must do what they can to make things fair for you. This could mean doing things differently for you so that you're treated equally. Some people call this "removing barriers that cause people to be treated differently because of personal differences that are listed in the Human Rights Code. The legal word for this is accommodation.

Employers may have to change the dress code or excuse someone from following the dress code to accommodate their human rights. Employers may not have to do this if changing the dress code would have very high costs or cause serious health and safety issues. The law calls this undue hardship

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