Halton District School Board missed the point on dress codes

Sunira Chaudhri

Sunira Chaudhri

Toronto Employment Lawyer

One argument is that Lemieux’s prosthetics are too sexualized for a school environment. The other is that a school should not opine on the appearance of their staff and that people should be free to appear and present themselves in a fashion they deem fit.

Oakville Trafalgar High School teacher Kayla Lemieux has been the subject of intense outcry following the circulation of video of her wearing oversized prosthetic breasts while teaching shop class.

 

One argument is that Lemieux’s prosthetics are too sexualized for a school environment. The other is that a school should not opine on the appearance of their staff and that people should be free to appear and present themselves in a fashion they deem fit.

 

The Halton District School Board issued a report on the matter, stating in part that the “implementation of a formal staff dress code or grooming standards would likely expose the board to considerable liability.”

 

I simply do not agree.

 

Turning first to the shortcomings of the report, it does not consult a legal expert on the issue despite its stated intention to determine if the “imposition of a staff dress code would be permissible from a labour and employment law perspective.”

 

The report authored is by the Superintendent of Human Resources and the Director of Education, references the Ontario Human Rights Commission to support its finding dress codes are fraught with legal risk. In fact, the Commission devotes a sizable component of it’s website to the removal of sexualized and gender specific dress codes at work.

 

The Commission’s website states “sexualized dress codes reinforce stereoptical and sexist notions about women.” Specifically the Commission referred to a CBC Marketplace inquiry about restaurants where dress codes “that require female servers to wear short skirts, tight dresses, high heels and low cut tops to work.”

 

As a woman, I would venture to say that oversized prosthetic breasts reinforce stereotypical and sexist notions about women — especially in a school environment.

 

As a professional, I’m also required to follow a dress code. To attend court before a judge, I am required to wear a robe, a vest, pants or a skirt, a court shirt, and tabs. Even with the advent of zoom courtrooms, there is still an attire and etiquette protocol.

 

For example, in a Toronto zoom courtroom, even when we are not expected to robe we are expected as counsel to wear “neutral, muted or solid coloured business clothing.” Despite the fact that we are seated throughout the hearing, we should still “wear appropriate clothing from the waist down” in the event that we are required to suddenly stand.

 

Sometimes the robing requirements feel excessive (especially in the summer and when pregnant), but the intention was to lay an equal playing field for parties arguing their cases before the court. If nothing else, a lawyer’s robes expounds professionalism and respect for one’s peers.

 

The Halton District School Board admits that professionalism is a key tenet in the workplace.

 

While I do not feel it productive to opine on the choices of an individual and how they represent themselves to the world, I can appreciate a call for leaders to be professional in workplaces.

 

Teachers are, after all, leaders to the most important people in Canada; our youth. Many industries require dress codes. It is not often that we begrudge an airline, restaurant or retailer for imposing a dress code on its employees. The law allows for it.

 

Halton District School Board is free to impose a reasonable dress code, as is every employer. If it fails to do so, it has misunderstood the true intent of the Ontario Human Rights Commission.

 

Have a workplace issue? Maybe I can help! Email me at sunira@worklylaw.com and your question may be featured in a future column.

 

The content of this article is general information only and is not legal advice.

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