Gym attire: a human rights issue?

Our long-time readers may remember a tongue-in-cheek three part series I did back in early 2010 on proper gym etiquette.

The three posts were as follows:

  1. What to wear at the gym
  2. Ten most annoying gym personalities
  3. Basic guidelines

In the first post I briefly discussed the proper footwear you might consider wearing while exercising:

What to wear: Any sort of athletic shoe (excluding soccer cleats, golf shoes, etc.) will do – whatever you find comfortable. If playing squash or basketball, you can get special court shoes, but otherwise a good all around running shoe will suffice for most activities.

What not to wear:

– Sandals/flip-flops: When in an area with lots of heavy objects being tossed about you want your feet covered and at least somewhat protected.

– Barefoot: This is sort of like the above, but takes a special type of person to pull off.

– Work boots: Ok, so on the other extreme you have someone so worried about foot injury that they decide steel-toe work boots are the only footwear appropriate for the job. While I commend you on being so concerned with safety – work boots really aren’t meant for athletic performance, not do they look reasonable with a pair of shorts.

Apparently the issue of gym attire, particularly footwear, is a much bigger issue than I ever imagined. In fact, as of recent, it has become a human rights issue.

Here’s the story.

A fellow was refused from exercising at the Platinum Athletic Club in Surrey, BC while wearing work boots because doing so was against company dress code. When the man explained that he needed to wear these types of shoes to alleviate pain due to a ligament injury, the personnel at the gym threatened to “review” his membership.

So, he filed a complaint of discrimination against the gym, and was recently awarded close to $2000 for his troubles by the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal.

Why $2000, you might ask? Here’s the breakdown:

  • $400 to compensate reduced use of the gym
  • $500 for lost wages to pursue his complaint
  • $16 for parking to attend hearings
  • $1,000 for injury to his dignity, feelings and self-respect

The owner of the gym, who failed to attend the hearing, had this to say: “I was very surprised by the ruling. The whole thing is mind-boggling to me.”

So, forget what I said before. Work boots at the gym are totally in. And that’s the law!

For more on this story, check out the Vancouver Sun.


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8 Responses to Gym attire: a human rights issue?

  1. Macrobe says:

    Although I agree that work boots are technically not ‘athletic’ footwear, many offer better foot and ankle support and stability than the typical gym sneakers. Many powerlifters train in them for that reason, including myself post-recovery from a severely broken ankle. As an aside, what defines ‘athletic’ or ‘athlete’? Is it relegated to a person who participates in sports or a gym rat? Many people in physical labor occupations will burn more calories and muscle glycogen in one day than most gym members during a week. And who cares if work boots don’t match your shorts? 😉

    Mostly playing Devil’s Advocate here, but banning working out in work boots simply based on fashion is elitist. After all, the cliche ‘working out’ suggests performing real work, aye? :)

  2. Scott Gilbreath says:

    I agree that the athletic club was unnecessarily rigid in the interpretation and application of its “dress code”. On the other hand, there are scores of athletic clubs in Surrey, so why didn’t the complainant just take his business elsewhere? It seems that he has a lot of time on his hands.

    Regarding your final comment, “That’s the law!”: It’s the law only in Canada, where asinine “human rights” commissions have been allowed to run amok and intrude into areas far beyond their original mandate. The present verdict is a case in point–gym footwear as a human rights issue. Only in Canada. As much as I disagree with the club’s intransigence, I hope they appeal this stupid judgment to a REAL court.

  3. I’m not a lawyer, but I imagine the *legal* term “human rights” covers such a broad range of topics, that while we generally associated it with more “important” issues like clean drinking water and basic education, it can also encompass other, more mundane issues, like footwear.

    He had a legitimate case in the eyes of the law, and while you may not agree with his premise, the content of his lawsuit was reasonable in the eyes and definitions held within the legal system.

  4. Scott Gilbreath says:

    @Mr Epidemiology

    Obviously, the complainant had a legitimate case in the eyes of the BC Human Rights Tribunal but, until and unless the decision is appealed to a real court, it’s not possible to say whether it is legitimate in the eyes of the legal system. Canada’s federal and provincial/territorial human rights commissions were established as informal, non-judiciary bodies with authority to render decisions within a legally defined and limited set of parameters. They are, by legislative definition, not courts of law; they are not presided over by judges; and they do not observe the legal system’s rules of evidence or other procedures essential to the rendering of genuinely impartial justice. As a result, their decisions have frequently been overturned on appeal to Canada’s real courts.

    If this particular judgment were to be appealed, I wouldn’t be surprised if that happens again.

    • Thanks for that reply Scott. So if I’m understanding you correctly, the gym may try to appeal it, at which point this goes to a “real court.” If they overturn it, then all is good. If not, then that opens the floodgates for this to happen again and again?

  5. Rhodia says:

    I wish it was acceptable to exercise barefoot in the gym as well. Following my reading relating to feet, evolution, running, etc. I prefer to go barefoot when possible. As per my physiotherapist I do my bodyweight exercises (squats and so so) barefoot. I have started running in minimalist shoes and might eventually run barefoot in good weather. I wouldn’t mind running barefoot on a treadmill in the winter if my gym allowed it.