Women servers at multiple restaurant chains are claiming their employers have been instituting mandatory high heel policies, even going so far as to ignore doctor’s notes about them.
Via GlobalNews, several restaurants chains in Calgary, Alberta, Canada have been accused of having policies like these: Moxie’s, Original Joe’s, and Boston Pizza have all come under fire from employees who say they weren’t allowed to work unless they wore uncomfortable high heels. Heather Turgeon, who has worked at Original Joe’s for over two years, is leaving her job because of a policy she claims went into effect two weeks ago. What’s more, Original Joe’s apparently gave even fewer fucks than is standard about their employees’ health—which is extremely few fucks indeed:
Turgeon claims that when a coworker brought in a doctor’s note which advised against the use of heels, management said: “If you can’t wear the uniform then you can’t work.” She claims all of her coworker’s shifts were taken away, and “she was not allowed to work until she could wear heels again.”
The situation was allegedly no better at Boston Pizza:
“I ended up losing feeling in my big toes and haven’t regained some of that feeling,” said Christie Florence, who was a waitress at the Boston Pizza in Okotoks in 2014.
Servers from both chains came forward after GlobalNews published a similar piece about Moxie’s a few days ago, wherein two former employees came forward to accuse the chain of forcing employees to wear high heels regardless of the adverse health effects. All three restaurants—none of which are associated with the others, it’s worth noting—have categorically denied the charges in public statements, although FranWorks, the parent company of Original Joe’s, backtracked significantly when confronted with the allegations, claiming they “were not aware of this situation and would consider it an isolated incident,” and that they were currently investigating.
In addition to being objectively horrible, the good news is it’s also—at least in Canada—apparently extremely actionable:
“I think an employer is going to have a difficult time saying that high heel shoes are a bona fide occupational requirement,” said Sawers McFarlane Barristers & Solicitors lawyer Paula Kay. “I think it’s probably going to make you less efficient at your work…carrying food and drinks around to tables.”
Kay said if a doctor’s note was denied, it could be considered discrimination based on disability.
“If you have somebody who cannot physically wear high heels because of a health problem or a physical ailment…the employer has to accommodate that employee unless they are unable to do so, because it is again, something that’s required in the workplace,” said Kay.
It goes without saying that this is some pretty out-there fuckery. What’s amazing about this isn’t so much that it allegedly happened (stuff like this goes on in restaurants all the time), but that it allegedly happened a) in Canada, which has a much better (although obviously not perfect) track record for treating food service workers than the US,* and b) at multiple chain restaurants. Contrary to what a lot of people seem to believe, workers are actually less likely to be mistreated at full-service chain restaurants than they are at locally-owned ones, at least when it comes to suffering the sort of behavior that hearing about would droop the boner of the most tumescent corporate apologist. The most egregious violations I saw within the industry—and the ones for which no one ever faced consequences—all occurred at locally-owned restaurants rather than chains.
This makes sense when you consider larger chains tend to have legal departments far more skilled at keeping track of potential suits that could bite them in the ass. That’s not to say larger chains don’t shit on workers—when I worked for a subsidiary of Landry’s Seafoods, they used to try to make us pay for our employee discount**—but they have to be far more careful in how they do so, staying just shy of any legal violation while gleefully tapdancing past the point of ethical behavior into Douchebagtown. For three chains to all make a mistake this egregious, their legal and HR departments must’ve been either unconscious or non-existent.
Is it possible all of the servers are lying? Sure, it’s possible there’s some weird conspiracy by servers who don’t appear to know each other to accuse a bunch of restaurants with no connection to each other of the type of sexism that tends to be prevalent within the industry. It’s theoretically possible. But generally, the rule in the service industry is where there’s smoke, there’s misogynistic worker mistreatment.
Update: A server named Kay Stratichuk is now openly accusing Original Joe’s of forcing her to wear high heels despite possessing a doctor’s note, along with posting pictures purporting to demonstrate the damage the policy inflicted on her feet. It’s unclear if she is the co-worker mentioned by Heather Turgeon or another example entirely. Apparently, Original Joe’s has also rescinded the policy in light of getting caught out on it:
“As of June 12, 2015, a notice that was posted at Original Joe’s stating the following: ‘Hey all, in light of all the hoopla happening. Head office is in the process of reviewing their shoe policy. As of now servers are allowed to wear a polish able leather-ish closed toe sturdy stylish shoe. No toms.’ Just four days after quitting, they began to rethink their policies. I was essentially caused to lose wages, injure myself and quit for nothing,” wrote Stratichuk.
* Admittedly, this is a bar so low Bruno Mars couldn’t limbo under it.
** And if we chose not to pay the $9.50 every other week, we couldn’t have any soda, tea, or coffee from the restaurant while working, and if we wanted water, we had to bring our own container. We were not even allowed to use the restaurant’s tiny, .03 cent paper triangle cups. I’m not even sure Darden can compete with Landry’s level of spiteful, petty dickishness.
Image via kevin brine/Shutterstock.
Contact the author at WilyUbertrout@gmail.com.