Whole Foods grocery chain bans employees from wearing poppies

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Less than a week before millions of Canadians were ready to pay tribute to veterans by wearing a poppy, a national grocery store chain banned its employees from wearing the symbol of remembrance while at work.United States-based Whole Foods Market says poppies are not allowed under its recently updated uniform policy, which affects employees at its 14 locations across Canada.

But the company won’t say why.

A Whole Foods employee in Ottawa says a supervisor told her wearing the poppy would be seen as “supporting a cause.”

“I was basically told… if they allowed this particular cause, then that would open the door for them so they would have to allow or consider allowing other causes,” the employee said. CBC News has agreed not to name her because she fears retaliation in her work.

“I was actually in shock. I was appalled. I couldn’t believe it. “

An employment lawyer says the poppy could be seen as a manifestation of political conviction and thus not fall under the Ontario Human Rights Code, leaving employers to decide whether ” whether or not to allow employees to wear one. (CBC)

She said that in recent years she has been able to wear a poppy – a symbol of remembrance reminiscent of World War I – to work. But this year was different.

The Whole Foods uniform consists of an apron, coat or vest, hat and badge.

A poppy does not comply with this policy, the company confirmed, but did not explain why.

Branches of the Legion in Trouble

The first poppies were distributed in Canada in 1921. The donations they earn are an important source of revenue for the Royal Canadian Legion, which is used to help former service members and women purchase food, and obtain shelter and care. medical.

But Legion branches across Canada are struggling to cope with the loss of revenue from the pandemic, and some have expressed concerns that this year’s Poppy Campaign will bring in significantly fewer donations.

“We are grateful to the many partners and retailers like Whole Foods who contribute in various ways to the National Poppy Campaign,” said Danny Martin, director of corporate services at the legion’s national headquarters, in a statement.

“While retailers should establish their own company policies, unless there are safety concerns, we encourage the wearing of the poppy at all times as a sign of respect for our dead and as a symbol that helps educate people. Canadians on the sacrifices of our veterans.

An Ottawa employee said workers were allowed to wear the symbol in previous years and wonders why they don’t have a choice this year. (CBC) (CBC)

Wearing a poppy could be viewed as a manifestation of political conviction, according to labor lawyer Alex Lucifero of Samfiru Tumarkin, and therefore would not be protected under the Ontario Human Rights Code.

However, human rights codes in other provinces may be different, he says.

Lucifero says Whole Foods could have valid health and safety reasons for not allowing employees to wear a poppy because poppies “are pins, with needles, there could be a health and safety risk . ”

But, he added, “in general, it’s not good communication for an employer to take a position like this.”

Whole Foods, which is owned by Amazon, claims to support the Legion by donating more than $ 8,000 to the Poppy Campaign. He also said that employees at each of his stores would observe the traditional moment of silence at 11 a.m. on November 11.

But the Ottawa employee doesn’t think that’s enough.

“We’re talking about people who sacrificed their lives and their families, people who lost you know, husbands, wives, mothers, fathers, sons, daughters… it’s the only time of year where we honor them and say “Thank you. Thank you for everything you have done, ”“ she said.

“I can’t believe anyone telling me that I am not allowed to do this, that I am not allowed to give this simple little token of my gratitude, of my thanks.

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