WATCH: As more women affected by high heel policies at restaurants come forward, Heather Yourex takes a look at how some of these policies may be against provincial legislation.
CALGARY – A Calgary server who claims her doctor’s note was denied when she tried to get out of wearing high heels during a shift at an Original Joe’s restaurant says she could barely walk after her first shift in the shoes, and was forced to quit just four days before the company started to rethink the new policy.
“I couldn’t stand after my shift, I was in so much pain,” said Kay Stratichuk. “I understand the need for a dress code, however safety and health should have been the first concern—not how we looked when guys checked us out.”
Stratichuk worked at two Original Joe’s locations in Calgary for just over three years. She said she used to love working for the company, but had to give her notice last Monday “due to the new policy that has caused me pain and put my health in jeopardy.”
FranWorks Group of Companies, the parent company of Original Joe’s, said in a statement last week that the restaurant does “not require our staff to wear heels.” An email from the company directed Global News to the appearance standards policy, which says in part, “All black, polishable, closed heel and toe shoe with structure. Shoes with structure can be slip ons or wedges with at least a one inch rise. …Flat ballet style shoes do not have support and are dangerous in a restaurant setting and therefore not allowed.”
When asked specifically about the claims a server’s doctor’s note was rejected, a statement provided by FranWorks Friday said the company stands by its previous statement:
“We were not aware of this situation and would consider it an isolated incident. We are currently investigating the situation.”
In response to Stratichuk’s claims, FranWorks said Monday the group is taking the allegations seriously, and continuing to investigate.
“We’re taking the necessary steps to ensure our Appearance Standards policy is followed moving forward throughout all of our locations.”
Stratichuk says she has not been contacted in any investigation as of yet.
The young woman said the new dress code was implemented on May 15, and included a minimum one-inch heeled shoe. She claims a note was posted without specifications, which raised some questions from staff.
“Our general manager, Mel Bain, response was, ‘When a guy checks you out, He looks from the body down to the feet, heels look better,’” said Stratichuk.
She says she looked for heels that provided ankle support, but claims “everything was vetoed except the 2 ½” wedge heel.”
She sent a photo of a note she says was posted by the manager, saying:
“We must be in proper footwear when we clocked in… hair and makeup done, (I have seen you on Facebook, so I know what you are capable of looking like when you head to a bar).”
The server said she could barely walk after her first shift in the approved high heels, and went to a walk-in clinic with swelling and pain in her feet before her next shift. She says she got a note that she no longer has, because she gave the only copy to her employer.
“The doctor’s note said: After speaking with my patient and reviewing the injury to her foot, I recommend her not be in heels for the next several weeks,” she says.
Stratichuk says when she brought the note into her manager before her next shift, an assistant manager accused her of faking a doctor’s note. She worked that shift in flats, and after the shift, she says her manager asked to speak to her.
“As I was leaving, my manager told me I was no longer allowed on the floor without heels. I was told, ‘The owner’s here and you can’t be here with those shoes.’”
Stratichuk claims her general manager then took away all her shifts.
She says she was then told to take time off to take care of her foot. Stratichuk says she saw her family doctor was was told her metatarsal and phalange bones were bruised and flamed; she says doctors told her to quit before it became worse.
“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.
Since publishing a story about two Moxie’s servers claiming they were forced to wear high heels last Wednesday, Global News has received dozens of similar complaints from servers at various restaurant chains.
Watch below: Global News readers react to a story on claims from Moxie’s servers they were forced to wear high heels at work. Erika Tucker reports.
Katelyn Wilson, a former Moxie’s employee from Lethbridge, has also started a Facebook group in the hopes that women in the industry will “stand up for themselves.” Learn more at “Heels are a Choice” here.
Dalhousie Station Foot Clinic podiatrist Dr. Ian Russell doesn’t think it’s appropriate for any restaurant to enforce a high heel policy.
“It becomes a health and safety occupational issue, and it’s just not right,” said Russell, in a past interview with Global News.
Legal teams that specialize in workplaces issues say if they exist, high heel policies could be considered discriminatory, sexist and exploitative–enough grounds for a lawsuit. Sawers McFarlane Barristers & Solicitors lawyer Paula Kay said in a Friday interview 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.
Alberta’s Minister of Jobs, Skills, Training and Labour says she expected employers to work with employees if they’re “experiencing health-related issues.”
“If an employer is not responding to a concern by an employee, then certainly contact the Occupational Health and Safety contact centre and let us know about that,” said Minister Lori Sigurdson. “It is the responsibility of the employer to look at that with the employee.”
With files from Heather Yourex and Stefan Keyes