A company that owns several popular restaurant chains across the country has changed a new uniform policy that forced female servers at Bier Markt locations to wear revealing dresses to work after Go Public made inquiries.
"I was upset that I had to squeeze my body into something that small," said Tierney Angus, a server at the Bier Markt in Toronto's west end.
"The material is almost bathing suit-like. It is very tight, very skimpy. I went up a size and my boyfriend commented he could see my tailbone through it."
Angus has worked at the restaurant since it opened three years ago. Cara Operations Ltd. owns Bier Markt and several other restaurants including Milestones, Montana's Cookhouse, Swiss Chalet, Harvey's and more.
The uniform changes kicked in on Oct. 5, and affected employees at Bier Markt locations in Ontario and Quebec.
Under the new policy, the old gender-neutral uniform — black pants and golf shirt — were replaced.
Male servers were told they could wear jeans, a button-down shirt and Converse runners. Women were told they had to wear a short, sleeveless blue dress and heels or boots, with no jackets, sweaters or thick tights.
"One of the girls I work with mentioned you could see her underwear and the suggestion by my general manager was that she wear a thong if she didn't want her underwear to show, which is totally inappropriate. It's an extra requirement of the female staff that the men don't have to comply with. No one is asking them to wear a thong," she said.
Employee quits over sexy uniform
According to Angus, more than 40 women from four different locations complained to Cara's human resources department.
They received an email response saying, "The uniforms were based on our brand and industry standards and are not intended to sexualize team members or to discriminate."
Unhappy with that response, one woman quit her job. Angus said others challenged the policy by wearing runners instead of high heels or boots. Some tried to cover up with a sweater or jacket, but were sent home or told that wasn't allowed.
The company did make two concessions. It offered a slightly longer version of the dress and eventually told female employees they could wear a cardigan when the weather got colder, but only a short one.
"I think it's ridiculous. I know that women have fought for the right to wear pants for about 100 years. It's behind the times ... It's very shocking and it's sad that women are still being treated like this today," Angus said.
In an email to Go Public, Cara said the new uniforms were selected to reflect Bier Markt's "stylish image." It said restaurant staff were involved in the selection process and the company made changes to the uniforms based on staff feedback.
"The majority of feedback to our new uniforms has been very positive," the email said.
After our inquiries, Cara changed the uniform policy, deciding female staff no longer have to wear the dresses.
"Based on continuing feedback from a few employees, we have now made the male uniform option a unisex option available to female staff as well. Female staff who prefer to wear the jeans, shirt and running shoe option may return the dress for a full refund," Cara told Go Public in an email.
Servers paid $70 for a dress and $20 for a server belt out of their paycheques.
Human rights violated, says lawyer
Angus hired employment lawyer Barbara Green, and although the pair hoped Cara would change its policy after being contacted by Go Public, they were prepared to take the issue to court.
Green says Angus and other female employees just wanted the option of wearing pants or a dress.
"It's sad that we have to fight this battle in 2015," she said, adding the issue is not specific to Bier Markt and that similar dress codes, or even more sexual or provocative ones, are common at a lot of other restaurants.
"Women's bodies shouldn't be used to sell burgers and beer at restaurants. It's completely inappropriate," Angus says.
Green believes it's not only embarrassing for female staff, it's a violation of Ontario's Human Rights rules.
According to The Ontario Human Rights Commission's workplace guide Human Rights At Work employers should be able to prove "any sex-linked differences in dress code are bona fide occupational requirements" and employers "do not subject female employees to more difficult requirements than male employees and do not expect them to dress provocatively to attract clients."
CBC-TV's Marketplace is also investigating dress code policies in family dining restaurants across the country and how some restaurants are forcing female employees to wear high heels and short skirts.
If you have an experience you'd like to share on the topic, contact http://www.cbc.ca/marketplace/contactus/
Submit your story ideas
Go Public is an investigative news segment on CBC-TV, radio and the web.
We tell your stories and hold the powers that be accountable.
We want to hear from people across the country with stories they want to make public.
Submit your story ideas at Go Public.
Follow @CBCGoPublic on Twitter.
An earlier version of this article stated The Ontario Human Right's code states employers should be able to prove "any sex-linked differences in dress code are bona fide occupational requirements" and "do not subject female employees to more difficult requirements than male employees and do not expect them to dress provocatively to attract clients." Those quotes come from The Ontario's Human Rights Commission's guide Human Rights at Work 2008.Nov 02, 2015 12:38 PM ET