Where women must be sexy and the men, not so much

Sometimes in some industries, wearing a uniform (think McDonald’s) or something uniform-like (think nurse) is a job requirement.  You could even call the dress code a bona fide occupational requirement as the outfit performs some duty like identify who are the employees and what function they perform, protect the health and safety of the employee, or display the corporate brand or image. 

Now let’s consider establishments such as Hooters in which employees are required to wear a uniform as part of the corporate image.  Yes, their uniforms have the famous logo but that’s not the point.  The point is that the uniforms are designed to put the female servers on display.  The restaurant’s brand is very clear right down to its Hooters name about what their business model is and who their target customers are. 

With that preamble out of the way, let’s get to the case filed against the western Canada-based sports bar, Shark Club.  One of its female employee’s filed a sex discrimination complaint “saying she was forced to wear miniskirts and busty, cleavage-revealing tops”.  

The B.C. Human Rights Tribunal has chosen to look into the matter not on the basis that the employee was forced to wear a sexy uniform; whether or not this dress code is a BFOR is not at issue.  When it comes to human rights, the issue here is that only the female employees were required to dress in sexy outfits, not the men. 

The Shark Club’s defense in the media so far has been that they’ve always been “transparent” about hiring of employees and the job requirements.  The director of ops is basically quoted as saying “but everyone else is doing it!” when referencing other local restaurant and bars that enforce the same employee policies. 

Now I don’t know for sure but I imagine that, like Hooters, the Shark Club is targeting a predominately male, heterosexual, sports-loving clientele.  Given the business model, there may be little reason to hire male servers and requiring them to wear outfits as provocative as the female servers.  Hooters has seen its fair share of lawsuits, including one in 1997 that resulted in “the chain [agreeing] to create a few other support jobs, like bartenders and hosts, that must be filled without regard to sex”.  In fact, Hooters employees are now required to sign the following declaration:

  1. My job duties require I wear the designated Hooters Girl uniform.
  2. My job duties require that I interact with and entertain the customers.
  3. The Hooters concept is based on female sex appeal and the work environment is one in which joking and entertaining conversations are commonplace.
  4. I do not find my job duties, uniform requirements, or work environment to be offensive, intimidating, hostile, or unwelcome.

Hooters has seen a few policy changes in the last few years but the concept remains as-is.  But, these lawsuits happened in the U.S. – how will this suit play out in Canada?

Helen Luketic is the manager of HR metrics & research at BC Human Resources Management Association.  Besides editing this blog, researching and running the HR Metrics Service, she wonders how is it that on “Undercover Boss”, the employees can’t guess that the visiting employee with the camera following them around is actually their CEO.