Teachers often have questions or concerns on the implementation of new policies, rules or guidelines by their school district. Indeed, school districts may feel the need to implement policies to establish a dress code, a code of ethics, a policy on absenteeism, etc. Although the employer enjoys a certain discretion in implementing new rules, guidelines and policies, certain basic criteria must be respected as outlined below.
Unless it is restricted by the Collective Agreement, the employer has the right to implement policies, rules and guidelines to manage the conduct, performance and personal appearance of teachers. But such a right is not unlimited or absolute. For the implementation of rules or a policy there are basic criteria that must be respected. Here are these requisites:
- It must not be inconsistent with the collective agreement.
- It must not be unreasonable.
- It must be clear and unequivocal.
- It must be brought to the attention of the affected teachers before the employer can act on it.
- The teachers concerned must have been notified that a breach of such rule could result in discipline, up to discharge, if the rule is used as a foundation for discipline.
- Such rule should have been consistently enforced by the employer from the time it was introduced.
In determining whether an employerʼs rules on grooming, hair styles, personal attire and the like are reasonable, arbitrators balance the employerʼs legitimate concerns for its image and operations against employeesʼ rights of personal freedom to express their individual identities. Necessarily, each case will turn on its own set of facts, especially on the nature of the employerʼs business, the employeeʼs job and the personal interest at stake. The employer has the burden of establishing that an employeeʼs appearance poses a real threat to its business which is more important than the rights of the employee. In arbitrations, arbitrators have generally taken the position that in order to prove that an employeeʼs personal appearance is prejudicial to its business, an employer must produce objective evidence or prejudice and loss, such as complaints from the public and/or opinion surveys. Mere speculation and subjective impressions are not enough.
According to the Education Act, we must remember that teachers act as role models for students. Teachersʼ appearances also have an influence on how the public perceives the education system and the status of the teaching profession. Therefore, the employer is allowed to introduce rules or policies guiding the appearance of teachers which enhance confidence in the education system, but always subject to the above steps.