The City of Toronto is urging its contractors to bring back security personnel who were forced out of a job, after new requirements stipulated they must be clean-shaved to accommodate a masking mandate. But a Sikh organization that is advocating for the security guards who left their job as a result of the new mandates wants the city to go further and compensate them for any hours missed.
On March 22, the city had originally requested that all security guards working in homeless shelters be clean shaven to accommodate wearing an N-95 mask.
The contractors that supply security guards to City of Toronto locations were then required to enforce those rules.
Maintaining unshorn body hair is a common practice in the Sikh religion as a way to show commitment to the faith.
Balpreet Singh, legal counsel and spokesperson for the World Sikh Organization, says contractors were complaining that city inspectors were coming on site and fining them for security guards who still had beards.
He says he was forwarded an email from a security contractor which addressed the company's security guards. He told them they were docked 190 billable hours in one day because of bearded security guards on the site. The security guards were then told they would be sent home if they weren’t clean shaven.
In a press release put out on Monday, the City of Toronto said it “has directed these contractors to accommodate their employees who have requested religious exemptions and to reinstate any employee whose employment was terminated, immediately.”
Singh says now that the city is asking contractors to accommodate their employees, what they’re asking for isn’t good enough.
“What they’re saying is ‘you can ask for accommodation but you won’t be sent back to the same site, we’ll try to find something else for you and if not, we’ll put you on temporary layoff’,” he tells Yahoo News Canada. “Temporary layoff is not religious accommodation. We won’t be satisfied until these security guards are returned to their positions and compensated for the work they missed.”
Singh says the whole situation is ridiculous, especially considering that for the past two years during the pandemic, these security guards were in the same positions, even before vaccines were available, without any issues.
“Now when visitors to these shelters aren’t required to be masked and things are getting better with COVID, (these security guards are) being told they’re out of a job because they can’t be clean shaven,” says Singh.
That’s completely unacceptable. It’s the definition of discrimination.Balpreet Singh, legal counsel and spokesperson for the World Sikh Organization
He adds that if the security guards aren’t given a suitable solution to the current situation, then the next step will be legal action.
“We have over a hundred security guards who have been affected and the legal system, the Human Rights Tribunal takes a long time to resolve, but we have no other option,” he says.
No one should have to choose between their faith and paying the bills.
The discriminatory no beard policy in the City of Toronto must end immediately. Let Sikhs, and any other religious community that keep a beard, work.https://t.co/I5lzbnyp3R
— Gurratan Singh (@GurratanSingh) July 4, 2022
This is ridiculous. Having a beard doesn’t prevent someone from safely doing a job as security guard.
Anyone who lost their job (including Sikh security guards) should be reinstated & compensated for lost pay.
Gatekeepers who made this dumb decision should be held accountable. https://t.co/TlMkpyjmst
— Pierre Poilievre (@PierrePoilievre) July 4, 2022