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No beards, please: How Toronto’s policy cost Sikh workers their jobs

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Hundreds of Sikh workers in Canada’s Toronto were fired or demoted due to a policy that required them to shave their beards in order to wear a face mask. After months of controversy, city officials have now apologized and changed the directive to allow ‘under-mask beard covers.’

Sikhs all over the world have never been afraid to fight for their religious freedom. However, a contentious city policy in Toronto resulted in the layoff of over 100 Sikh security guards.

After months of controversy, the City of Toronto has changed its “facial hair policy” to accommodate anyone whose faith requires them to wear a beard.

We look at the directive and what prompted city officials to reconsider.

‘Cut beards to wear N95 masks’

More than 100 Sikh workers were laid off, demoted, or relocated after a new rule that required them to cut their beards to wear a face mask. Under the norms issued in March this year, staff employed at homeless shelters and other service settings were to wear an N95 mask when providing care to people who are suspected or confirmed COVID-19 positive.

The policy called for the staff to be “clean-shaven” to ensure masks fit properly.

However, facial hair is an expression of the Sikh faith and the rules put the workers in a spot. They said that the policy is discriminating and humiliating.

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