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Ontario Looks to Bolster Laws on Corporate Uniforms

Ontario Looks to Bolster Laws on Corporate Uniforms

If your business operates in the retail, travel, event production and/or hospitality industries, or in any other industry that requires employees to wear a uniform, be sure to make note of proposed Ontario legislation that seeks to limit what your company can mandate what its employees must wear as part of their work attire.

What is the “Putting your Best Foot Forward Act“?

A bill was proposed in October 2017 seeking to amend the Occupational Health and Safety Act (“OHSA”) to prohibit employers from requiring their employees to wear inappropriate footwear as part of their uniform. The bill is called the Putting your Best Foot Forward Act.

As currently drafted, the OHSA specifically addresses footwear protection standards in workplaces that encompass confined spaces, construction sites, health care facilities, residential facilities, industrial factories, and mining plants. The new bill looks to expand the OHSA’s reach to include all employees who are required to wear unsafe footwear as part of their corporate uniform. For branded consumer facing industries, this would impact employers in the retail, hospitality, events production and travel industries ability to mandate that their employees wear high heels as part of their corporate uniform.

Can we Equate High Heels with ‘Unsafe Footwear’?

The Canadian Federation of Podiatrists has issued a statement that supports the bill’s extension to high heels:

“Ontario podiatrists see far too many patients with injuries in the workplace that are entirely avoidable that are caused by wearing footwear that is inappropriate or outright unsafe…Podiatrists treat foot pain and deformities in women twice as often as foot disabilities in men, often due to having to wear high heels in their workplaces. This bill will help to address these issues and keep more people in Ontario healthy.”

Moreover, the Ontario Human Rights Commission issued a policy paper that addressed gender-specific dressing in the workplace. One of the points raised was against the requirement of women in the restaurant and bar industry from wearing sexualized outfits, which included high heels.

Is a Bill Law?

Before you rush to change your corporate uniform policy, be cognizant that the Putting your Best Foot Forward Act has only recently been proposed as a bill. A bill is proposed legislation. It is not law, yet. A bill must go through a series of examination by the Houses of Parliament, before it becomes law. The bill’s purpose, the wording of the bill, the impact of the bill on industry are all considered. Also, on a practical level, consideration as to whether the political will/appetite to enact the bill as law is also a factor.

What Can We Expect Next?

In today’s #MeToo environment, this proposed bill is very au courant. Moreover, it is not specific to Ontario. British Columbia has also previously considered instituting similar laws. To a large extent, as with any newly proposed legislation, we will have to adopt a wait and see approach. However, with the backing of both the Canadian Federation of Podiatrists and the Ontario Human Rights Commission, we foresee the spirit of this law moving forward.

If corporate uniforms are a key component of your company’s brand, feel free to reach out to Froese Law so that we can keep you updated on this piece of legislation.

Ashlee Froese is a branding lawyer and is recognized as a Certified Specialist in Trademarks Law by the Law Society of Upper Canada.   Ashlee is Principal of Froese Law, a Toronto-based boutique law firm that specializes in branding law.  www.froeselaw.com  @froese_law