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I’m not allowed to wear my hair the way I want to at work. Is that legal?

Who hasn’t run into this issue at one time or another: you wanted to go a little wild and changed your look.

Then you come to work and your boss tells you that you need to change your hair back to a tamer colour or style. Can he or she tell you what colour your hair should be or how to wear your hair?

Though human rights law states that Canadians have the right to be discrimination free, those rights have to be balanced with the employer’s business needs and interests.

When is it ok for the employer to tell you how to wear your hair?

The employer can mandate how an employee wears his or her hair when it affects the employer’s business interests. However, the employer has restrictions that need to be observed.

For instance, if you work as a cook in a restaurant and have long flowing hair – or even if you don’t – you may be required to tie your hair back and/or wear a hair net. Your refusal to do so could be problematic, because if strands of hair fall into the food, the reputation of the restaurant could potentially be negatively impacted, which can cause the employer to lose business.

However, if you work in a call centre and are not seen by any customers then your boss will likely not be able to demand that you tie up your hair on a regular basis or keep your hair in a hair net.

Furthermore, are there health and safety issues for yourself or others, including customers? Then you may have to comply with your employer telling you to tie up your hair.

Also, what kind of business is it? If a professional corporation employs you and they have a business reputation, then it’s very likely they are going to require you to wear a suit and have your hair neatly styled.

What does human rights legislation say about it?

While human rights legislation may not specifically address issues of hair, it does talk about appearance in its dress code sections.

Human rights standards in British Columbia state that dress code policies that discuss employees appearance, have to apply “equally and comparably across genders and that they treat everyone fairly regardless of gender.”

Ontario has similar dress code policy requirements. As long as dress code policy complies with the code, then the employer can implement it. However, such a dress code has to be inclusive of all employees and they have to be made in “good faith.”

In terms of hair, for example, a dress code could say that men cannot have long hair and women with long hair have to keep it tidy but the code cannot ban ponytails for men only.

In other words, employers have the right to put in place a dress code – which can include policies about hair – as long as they don’t discriminate against the employees on a human rights ground.

If you feel that you may have been discriminated against due to your hairstyle or hair colour you should consult a lawyer.

Read more:

Dress Codes & Appearance Standards 

Pay, benefits, dress codes and other issues