Summer Work Dress Codes?

Do flip-flops, exercise shorts, or spaghetti strap tank tops belong in the workplace? An article (in French) in Le Devoir, “Relâchement vestimentaire – Pour en finir avec la «gougoune» au travail”, attempts to answer exactly that. According to the article, Revenu Québec and The Ordre des infirmières et infirmiers du Québec (OIIQ) have insisted that their employees dress appropriately for the workplace, where exercise shorts, tank tops, flip-flops and other overly casual items do not belong. In fact, Revenu Québec sent out a memo to all its employees on the subject of office dress codes as recently as last June. Given the widely-held notion that 55% of all communication is visual, it certainly makes sense for Revenu Québec and the OIIQ, or any other employer for that matter, to be concerned by their employees’ outfits (see the Certified General Accountants Association of Canada statistics).

Not only have Quebec courts recognized a general right of employers to implement a workplace dress code, but s. 85 of An Act Respecting Labour Standards (the Act) implicitly recognizes an employer’s right to require “the wearing of special clothing”. How “special” is another issue… For more information on who exactly is covered by the Act, check the Commission des normes du travail website. Naturally, the rule allowing employers to require special dress does have its limits, both in terms of charter rights and in terms of one’s entitlement to be paid at least the minimum wage. An article (in French) posted on the Ordre des conseillers en ressources humaines agréés website entitled, “L’employeur peut-il obliger un employé à porter une tenue vestimentaire particulière?” comprehensively summarizes the applicable limits.

In terms of “fundamental rights”, an employer is prohibited from adopting a dress code that unreasonably restricts an employee’s freedom of expression, a right guaranteed under article 3 of Quebec’s Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms. Additionally, according to article 4 of the Quebec Charter and article 2084 of the Civil Code of Quebec an employer may not undermine an employee’s dignity. Several Quebec decisions provide helpful guidelines to employers as to the proper implementation of a policy on employee dress. Notably, the following rules were held to violate an employee’s dignity: requiring employees to wear tight shirts, short skirts, and high heels (C.D.P. c. 2632-1661 Québec Inc. (Restaurant la Courtisane – you could guess that a restaurant called “the Courtesan” might try to have its waitresses dress a certain way…), requiring employees to unbutton their shirts (C.D.P.D.J. (Landriau) c. Beaublanc inc. et autres), and requiring employees to wear sheer tops to attract customers (Kirkham et Théorêt c. Bill Edward’s Cheers- Cheers Management (Pointe-Claire)).

Are there dress codes where you work? Are they reasonable?


  1. The Ontario Public Service has a summer dress code that allows us to dispense with suits and ties (and equivalent for women – I forget the exact language) in order that the building air conditioning may be set at a higher temperature (I think 26 degrees C.) That this is a good idea was confirmed to me today when I had lunch with a woman partner at a Bay Street firm, who said that her office is air conditioned to a temperature comfortable to men in suits – which means that women who simply wear a dressy blouse and skirt are frequently cold. I prefer setting the temperature to accord with what is a reasonable amount of apparel.

    Because it’s a public service and therefore not inclined to leave anything to chance, the announcement each year goes on to tell us that we have to look respectable too…

  2. Ontari-ari-o: where women have to dress warmly to be comfortable outside in winter, and dress warmly to be comfortable inside in summer.

    Good thing it’s the 50th anniversay of Catch-22, no?