Shave or lose your job: Over 100 Sikh security guards lose jobs at City of Toronto sites due to ‘clean shaven’ warrant

For security officer Birkawal Singh Anand, having his beard shaved is like asking a non-Sikh to “peel his skin”.

So when he was forced to choose last month between keeping his beard or keeping his job at a respite site in the city of Toronto, there was no need to deliberate.

According to the World Sikh Organization (WSO), Anand and about 100 other local Sikh security guards have been dismissed since April due to a City of Toronto mandate that security guards working at shelters and the city’s respite sites must be razed to the ground. a requirement to be able to wear a properly fitted N95 mask in the event of a COVID-19 outbreak.

“I told them, I’m from the Sikh community, shaving is not an option for me,” Anand said.

In an email to the Star, City of Toronto spokeswoman Erin Whitton said guards who lost their jobs at city sites were contractors, not city security personnel. .

The city’s Shelter, Support and Housing Administration (SSHA) division has a policy that anyone likely to use an N95 mask must be clean-shaven for fit testing, Whitton said. This is consistent with the city’s respiratory protection policy, she said.

Whitton said the city is “reviewing the complaint that some contractors failed to accommodate their own employees.”

A March COVID-19 fact sheet for ASIS staff reads: “Employees should be clean shaven for a (mask) fit test.”

According to the WSO, this rule began to be applied to contract security guards in April. Since then, some guards have been fired outright, others have been offered reassignments amounting to demotions, both in terms of job title and salary, the WSO said.

The city’s COVID fact sheet and accommodation policy state that religious accommodations may be made for employees unable to shave, to be determined by the employee’s supervisor – contractors, in the case of Sikh guards .

Accommodations may involve the employee purchasing equipment, modifying certain job duties or hours, or reassigning the employee.

Anand said he offered to wear some sort of mask that covered his entire beard, but was told that was not an option. “They said, ‘If you want to work here, you have to be shaved,'” he said.

He added: “I’ve worked for security companies throughout the pandemic and never had this problem.”

Anand’s employer, ASP Security, opted to offer him a reassignment instead.

In a termination note seen by the Star, ASP wrote that although Anand’s accommodation request was approved, “being clean shaven is a mandatory requirement of the client, in this case the City of Toronto.”

As a result, Anand was removed from his schedule at the respite site and placed on “official layoff”.

“At the same time, we are pleased to inform you that we have an open job (sic) opportunity in aviation security at Pearson International Airport,” the memo read.

The position: “mask application agent”.

ASP added that Anand’s old work would be available to him again, “when the client requirement is removed.”

Anand held two security positions before being fired. The job he left isn’t a city contract – so he doesn’t have to cut his beard there – but he lost half his income and says he’s subject to significant financial constraints.

ASP did not respond to the Star’s request for comment.

An internal email sent by contractor Star World Security to employees and obtained by the Star describes the city’s corporate security conducting site visits and penalizing Star World for having unshaven employees.

“In 1 day, we were deducted 198 billable hours because security guards showed up for work not clean shaven,” the email reads. “Effective immediately, if you report to work without a clean shaven, you will be immediately sent home without pay.”

He continues: “Unfortunately, this guideline is a mandatory requirement for working with the City of Toronto in accommodation and respite settings as it caters to the vulnerable population. The reasoning behind being clean shaven at all times is that if an outbreak is declared in one location, guards and staff can immediately switch to N95 masks with an appropriate affective (sic) seal.

Star World also did not respond to Star’s requests for comment.

The city confirmed that company security personnel conducted inspections to document “compliance issues.” Whitton added: “Contractors then have a duty to accommodate their employees in accordance with their own human rights policies.”

Balpreet Singh Boparai, legal counsel for the WSO, said it was clear the city was the one “crashing down” the bearded security guards.

“It means financial losses for entrepreneurs, who solve the problem by removing Sikhs from their jobs,” Boparai said.

The city was told it had been an issue “for almost a month and they have shown no intention of fixing it,” he said.

In a June 8 letter to Mayor John Tory, Boparai wrote, “It is grossly unfair and ridiculous that Sikh employees who held their positions at the height of the pandemic are now being fired or demoted for not being able to be fitted with respirators. N95 due to their facial hair.

“This comes at a time when mask mandates and public safety measures have been relaxed and vaccines are readily available.”

The letter calls for an urgent resolution of the issue of Sikh guards losing their jobs.

Almost a month later, Boparai said no “substantial response” had come from the city in response.

Speaking to The Canadian Press in December 2020, Colin Furness, an epidemiologist at the University of Toronto, said he considered beards to be a “variable” in the fit of a mask, but “not a determinant” .

A mask can fit ill whether you have a beard or not, he said. And while the length of facial hair has a further impact on fit, he says wearing a mask is just one safety precaution we should practice.

“I don’t think the beard should be demonized, because it’s not just about wearing a mask,” he said. “It’s when you start to think that masks completely protect you that beards become riskier.”

With files from The Canadian Press

Ben Cohen is a reporter in Toronto for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @bcohenn


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