Determining what rights an employee has when it comes to an employer’s dress code depends on the situation. Employees who identify as part of a legally protected class may also receive certain protections when it comes to an employer’s dress code. To recognize if this is the case, an employee should consult a lawyer to understand the legal options available.
Discriminatory Company Policies
When a dress code or grooming policy discriminates against a legally protected class, it’s illegal. The policy can be explicit or just cause an unfair impact on a group. A few areas can be problematic.
Hair length/shaving – requiring a certain length of hair or clean-shaven face can discriminate against employees with religious beliefs, requiring a beard and uncut hair, or the African American race since they can suffer from a skin condition that makes shaving painful.
No tattoos or piercings – some employees might have a religious belief that requires them to have tattoos or piercings that are visible.
Different requirements based on gender – an employer who demands that only one gender have a dress code while the other does not.
Note: Employers are obligated by the law to provide a reasonable accommodation to employees with disabilities who may be unable to comply with the dress code for various reasons due to their disability.
Quick Questions: What Are My Dress Code Employee Rights?
Every situation is different and should be analyzed by a lawyer in your area. But, as a rule of thumb, employers can only set dress regulations that do not discriminate against one of the legally protected classes. Here are a few quick questions about dress codes in employment.
Can my employer require me to weigh or be a certain size for the work uniform?
Yes and no. Basically, it depends on your situation. If you work for an employer that places weight requirements on the women but none on men, this would be viewed as gender discrimination in dress code. However, if a job applicant applies for a job with a company that sets requirements on men and women alike for physical appearance, this is considered legal. Since both men and women have size requirements and they know what they signed up for, it is not illegal for the company to implement that dress code.
Does my employer need to give me a reasonable accommodation in dress code when it’s fairly obvious that I need one?
Yes, Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act obligates employers to offer reasonable accommodation to employees with religious beliefs. Of course, an employer might not have to provide the accommodation if it causes them undue hardship.
Does an employer have to accommodate a pregnant woman on dress code for shoes if she cannot fit into company regulation shoes anymore?
Yes, an employer should take certain steps to accommodate a pregnant woman, but the employer may also require that the employee provides a doctor’s note for the shoe need. Pregnant employees are protected under the ADA as well as the pregnancy discrimination act.
Is it illegal for my employer to require clean shaven?
No, but if you cannot shave your beard due to your religious beliefs or a skin condition, your employer is obligated to offer a reasonable accommodation.
How to Handle Dress Code Discrimination
When an employer has a dress code that discriminates against employees, knowing the best way to respond to those situations requires wisdom and honesty. Employees must know how to navigate the internal system and know when to file a complaint with a government agency. Follow these steps to pursue your employee rights.
1. Check your company policy.
Your company policy outlines the way the employer wants employees to handle internal problems, whether dress code or harassment. Check to see who to report the problem to.
2. Inform the designated person.
Often it is better to speak with the manager or HR representative in person. Be sure to follow up the conversation with an email, outlining your conversation. This provides a time stamp for when you made the internal complaint as well as a reminder.
3. File a complaint.
Depending on the situation, you may need to choose the right federal or state agency for your complaint. But, it’s likely that you’ll want to file with the EEOC for any type of discriminatory action.
4. Consult a lawyer.
At any time in this process, you may want to consult a lawyer. Should your complaint be investigated and you receive a Right to Sue letter, a lawyer will help you take the right steps to pursue your employee rights under the law.