The CBC has reported a Winnipeg waitress named Stephanie Lozinski alleges she was fired from her job as a result of shaving her head. And that the Manitoba Human Rights Commission has turned down Ms. Lozinski’s resulting human rights complaint.
Ms. Lozinski was employed as a server at a St. Boniface-area restaurant. She was reported as having, on New Year’s Eve, shaved her head in support of an uncle dying from cancer.
It appears from the story (which did not quote her employer) that her new look was not appreciated. Ms. Lozinski alleged she was fired because her shaven appearance was unacceptable to her employer.
The CBC story indicates she made efforts to mitigate the impact of her new style by wearing a scarf or a wig.
The story goes on to report the Manitoba Human Rights Commission turned down Ms. Lozinski’s complaint on the basis that the voluntary shaving of one’s head is not a human rights matter. A review of the commission’s website did not turn up any written reasons relating to Ms. Lozinski’s complaint.
The commission’s decision was the correct one. It is important to note that all of this information represents allegations which are, at this stage, unproven.
Human rights legislation is, generally, not intended to protect individuals against negative reactions to a simple exercise of personal preference. Put another way, just because a person decides to cut his or her hair (or, for that matter, grow it) doesn’t imbue that act with the protection of human rights law.
Generally speaking, human rights legislation is intended to protect against acts of discrimination which are linked to enduring, rather than transitory or preferential, characteristics.
B.C.’s Human Rights Code, for instance, protects employees from discrimination relating to their race, colour, ancestry, place of origin, political belief, religion, marital status, family status, physical or mental disability, sex, sexual orientation or age or because they have been convicted of a criminal or summary conviction offence unrelated to the employment.
Admittedly, some of these characteristics could be acquired as a matter of individual choice. One could, for instance, choose to join a religion and, thereby, gain human rights protection against resulting discrimination.
But cutting one’s hair – unless, for instance, it could be said to be a racial, ancestral, or religious requirement – wouldn’t normally qualify as a basis for a human rights complaint. In Ms. Lozinski’s case, her alleged reason for doing so (to support her ill relative) seemingly has no nexus with any of the protected grounds.
Ms. Lozinski’s situation does inspire some sympathy (assuming it occurred as alleged). You might be forgiven for hoping that your employer wouldn’t be so insensitive as to fire you for expressing support for an ill relative in such a manner.
But the fact that her employer allegedly decided her appearance wasn’t acceptable for a waitress doesn’t convert the matter into a human rights issue. There may be other legal avenues for her to pursue, but this complaint just doesn’t cut it in the human rights context.
Robert Smithson is a labour and employment lawyer, and operates Smithson Employment Law in Kelowna. For more information, visit www.smithsonlaw.ca. Subject matter is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice.