Before heading out in the winter, Scarborough resident Sarah Adisa wraps her hair in a simple black scarf.
“The texture of my hair, it breaks in this cold weather. I protect it unless it’s braided,” explained Adisa.
She said she never imagined the wrap could cost her a job.
“‘We don’t allow head wraps over any sorts,’ that’s what she said. ‘We don’t allow head wraps of any sort it’s not part of our policy here,'” Adisa claimed she was told by the store manager of David’s Bridal in Scarborough.
The website for the popular wedding dress retailer lists a number of job postings “for people with diverse backgrounds and fresh ideas to help create a uniquely personal retail experience.”
Adisa, a full-time student who came to Canada from Nigeria, applied for a part-time position at the bridal shop.
“I specified that I don’t work on Sundays. I was asked why. I said for religious reasons. I go to church.”
Adisa said she felt pressured to agree to an occasional Sunday shift by the store manager, and when she said no, the focus became her head scarf.
“She’s like, ‘Your head wrap, is it for religious reasons?’ and I said, ‘No,’ because it’s not for religious reasons, and she said, ‘So why are you wearing it?” recalled Adisa, who said she tried to explain the need to protect it from the cold weather.
“It will break, especially around the front part. It balds or breaks off,” she indicated, pointing to the sides of her head.
The alternative is to braid her hair, but she said that costs a lot of money.
“I don’t always have that $140 to go and spend on my hair if my phone bill is due or if I have to go grocery shopping … which is why I got the job in the first place,” said Adisa.
“She got a pencil and erased me off the schedule. She said, ‘Come in when you get your hair done, you can give me a call, and I can reschedule it … I felt really humiliated and just embarrassed.”
Toronto employment and labour lawyer Sunira Chaudhri said, “no employer should really be infringing on an employee’s right with respect to how they wear their hair or what they put in their hair.”
Chaudhri said employers should know that they have to give employees reasonable religion accommodation.
“Just because you may want the whole Sunday off, doesn’t mean you will get the whole Sunday off,” she said.
Chaudhri noted the moment an employer weighs in on whether or not what you’re wearing has a religious significance, that could be entering the realm of discrimination.
“If ultimately she results in having a loss of wages because of this head scarf not only could it be discriminatory, it could just be a termination in bad faith,” she said.
In an email, a spokesperson for David’s Bridal told Global News “our HR team is addressing and we do not tolerate discrimination of any kind.”
The spokesperson would not comment on whether or not there is indeed a head scarf policy at the retailer.
As for Adisa, she said she is looking for another job.