City apologizes, seeks to rectify job loss after ‘clean-shave’ policy under fire by Sikh advocacy group

Reasonable accommodation in action with “under-mask beard covers”:

First came the Tuesday afternoon phone call and apology from Toronto Mayor John Tory. Now, Birkawal Singh Anand wants his job back.

Anand was one of more than 100 Sikh guards laid off from the security companies contracted to staff City-operated shelters and respite sites after the guards refused to follow a City mandate requiring they be clean-shaven in order for a tight-fitting N95 mask be worn in the event of a COVID-19 outbreak.

On Tuesday, Toronto issued a press release apologizing and saying that security guards should be rehired and paid for lost wages. “City of Toronto apologizes to the World Sikh Organization of Canada (WSO) for any delay in addressing this issue and ensuring security contractors were offering religious accommodations.”

The city said it was providing the update to “ensure security contractors accommodate all employees following a complaint from the World Sikh Organization of Canada.”

“It shouldn’t have taken a public outcry to make this change but I still appreciate that it is happening,” Anand said Tuesday night.

“The city did their part, now it’s up to the company to do theirs.”

Demanding that a Sikh shave his beard is like asking a non-Sikh to “peel off their skin,” Anand told the Star Monday.

“I told them, I belong to the Sikh community, shaving is not an option for me.”

The job losses began in April, the new release said. City staff had been inspecting work sites and deducting billable hours from contracted security companies for having employees who were not clean shaven.

The WSO complained about the layoffs in June, saying security service providers did not offer appropriate accommodation to their employees who have facial hair for religious reasons. The complaint was sent to city staff to resolve, sources said. Now, Toronto says it will allow the guards to wear “under-mask beard covers” as a “reasonable accommodation.”

That covering uses a “tight-fitting mask over a beard that covers the chin and cheeks, and ties in a knot at the top of the head,” the city’s release said.

“An N95 mask is then worn over the cover. The technique, also known as the Singh Thattha Method, is used by many Sikh people in the medical community and has been found to be highly effective in respirator fit testing.”

Before his 4 p.m. phone call to Anand, the release said Tory called the WSO to say the under-masking practice will go into effect “immediately.”

“This option was proposed by the World Sikh Organization of Canada and the City is grateful for this information. The City is also committed to followup meetings with the organization,” the release said.

Balpreet Singh Boparai, the lawyer for the WSO, said the organization received a call on Tuesday from Tory.

“He confirmed that the security guards could return to their jobs and the City would work with the security contractors to make it possible,” Boparai said.

The job losses may not be so easily resolved, he added.

“We are still waiting for the security contractors to get this message. A number of Sikh security guards had their shifts cancelled and they have not been invited to return to their positions.”

Source: City apologizes, seeks to rectify job loss after ‘clean-shave’ policy under fire by Sikh advocacy group

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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