Toronto must review ‘clean shave’ N95 mask policy after Sikh workers fired, demoted: advocacy group

A national Sikh advocacy organization said it is prepared to take the city of Toronto to provincial human rights court if a reasonable resolution cannot be reached on its so-called “clean shave” policy.

According to Toronto masking mandatethat the city last updated on June 22, all staff at homeless shelters and similar congregate settings who come into contact with clients suspected or confirmed to have COVID-19 or those who work in settings where COVID-19 is suspected. or an outbreak of the virus has been declared must wear an N95 respirator mask.

These masks, which need a good seal around the nose and mouth, cannot fit properly on people with beards.

Workers who are unable to comply with this directive due to their creed, religious beliefs, practices or observances have the option of meeting with their supervisor/manager to explore other accommodations.

Balpreet Singh of the Ottawa-based World Sikh Organization Canada (WSO) said this “unfair and unnecessary” policy has resulted in the dismissal or reassignment of more than 100 contract security guards, as their faith requires that they do not cut or shave your hair or beard.

“Such relocations often come with a demotion in both rank and salary. In many cases, individuals who had been hired as supervisors or managers have been demoted to security guards,” WSO said in a July 4 statement.

The group wants the city to review the policy and reinstate the affected workers.

“It has wreaked havoc on the lives of these security guards,” said Singh, who serves as spokesman and legal counsel for WSO.

“They have an impossible situation. … The solution is not to shave, it is to realize that this rule is not necessary.”

Singh, who last month wrote to Mayor John Tory and all members of the City Council to demand an “urgent resolution” to this problem, said that the vast majority of the time security guards can do their jobs safely using a medical mask, but said there can be “some very rare situations” where that’s not possible and that’s understandable.

Toronto City Hall is seen on Friday, September 1, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

“But kicking out 100+ guards is not the right way to do this,” he said, adding that these workers “served during the height of the COVID pandemic wearing medical masks and were not required to be clean shaven.”

“The new clean shave rules were introduced at a time when visitors to city sites are no longer required to wear masks. The clean shave requirement also does not apply for staff and workers at city sites,” WSO said in a statement.

In a statement, City of Toronto spokesman Brad Ross said one possible adaptation of the N95 mask is a full-face respirator, “but the City’s Occupational Health and Safety has advised that it is not suitable for use by the City of Toronto.” security guards use due to hearing and visibility restrictions.”

“So just like city staff, contractors must accommodate their employees at another work location, if, for religious reasons, they are unable to shave,” he said, noting that the city is in the “process of reviewing the matter and consult with the contractors.

In March 2020, Bearded RCMP Sikh officers were banned from performing front-line policing duties, as the organization required all officers to be equipped with N95 masks. They were allowed to return to duty in October 2020 after the WSO advocated for them.

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