I went to an information session earlier this year on the implementation of the recent employment legislation changes in Ontario. The session was provided by a labour relations lawyer to an audience made up of small business owners and independent Human Resources professionals. Included in the many legislative changes introduced, was the footwear amendment to the Occupational Health and Safety Act.
I suppose I should not have been surprised at the reaction of many in the audience to this new legislation. There was a round of guffaws and snorts, along with a smattering of giggling nudge-nudge wink-wink reactions. This particular piece of legislation allows for people who work in the entertainment industry to wear high heels. Specifically, it allows for entertainers (including those that work in the ‘exotic’ category) to keep their dancing shoes on. What got lost in the ensuing discussion, was the fact that this legislation prevents employers from requiring their staff to wear high-heels as part of a condition of employment. Furthermore, this restriction places an obligation on employers to provide a planned and pro-active response that protects workers from high-risk injuries based on a reasonable and common-sense approach to footwear requirements.
Employers in Ontario can no longer demand that their workers wear high-heels in order to perform the bona fide occupational requirements of their jobs. From a social justice perspective, the legislation seeks to curtail a systemically sexist requirement for certain occupations. It appears that the law is targeted at the restaurant/tavern/bar industry, which has in many cases required female workers to wear high heels while serving drinks and food to patrons. There is no reasonable work-related requirement that necessitates a female person to wear high heels while working an eight- to twelve-hour shift in a bar or a tavern while standing, walking, and carrying tray-loads of beverages and food. It seems unreasonable to think of a male or female construction worker carrying piles of lumber across a work-site while wearing high heels. The risk of injury in this scenario would appear to be quite high and completely preventable, based on a ridiculous footwear requirement.
Hopefully, common sense will continue to prevail as we move toward making our workplaces safer for everyone.
- Why do you think this legislative change was necessary?
- By including this amendment to the Occupational Health and Safety Act, what obligations are imposed on both the employer and the worker with regard to footwear safety?
- Thinking of your past work experience, have you had to wear work-related attire that made you uncomfortable? How did you proceed at the time? What would you do differently now?