Dress codes are sets of rules that are typically written that outline the types of clothing that groups of individuals are required to wear. Dress codes are usually created out of social norms and perceptions.
A dress code may also vary depending on its purpose, occasion, or circumstance. In general, there are four categories of corporate or work dress codes, including:
- Business formal;
- Business professional;
- Business casual;
Businesses may also have different dress codes that apply for different days of the week. For example, businesses may dress professionally on Monday through Thursday. However, on Fridays, employees are allowed to dress casually or in business casual, such as by wearing blue jeans.
Are There Federal Laws Regulating Dress Codes in the Workplace?
There are currently no federal laws that specifically outline the types of dress codes that are permissible or not permissible at work. However, there are federal laws that prohibit gender and religious discrimination that may provide employees with protections when they desire to dress a certain way at work.
It is important to note that an employer may be able to enforce a dress code at work while still complying with anti-discrimination laws.
Can My Employer Enforce Grooming and Appearance Requirements?
An employer is permitted to institute reasonable grooming and appearance requirements, as long as they do not discriminate on the basis of gender, race, or religion and the requirements are related to the job requirements. In other words, grooming or appearance requirements are permissible if they do not discriminate between men and women and serve some business purpose.
Can an Employer Require a Dress Code Only for Women?
Any dress code that places different standards on females and males may be considered illegal due to sex discrimination. Dress codes cannot reinforce stereotypes regarding gender.
Employment dress codes that are different from acceptable social customs or apply radically different standards for males and females will likely be considered illegal. A dress code that is mostly the same for both genders and only differs in a few ways will not likely face as much opposition.
Certain states, for example, California, have enacted special dress code laws compelling employers to allow women to wear pants in the workplace. In addition, California has other laws governing employee dress codes and grooming standards.
In the State of California, an employee handbook or policy may impose certain personal grooming standards, which may include:
- Other personal matters.
These issues may be relevant when an employee is:
- Dealing with members of the public;
- Handling dangerous equipment;
- Trying to maintain sanitation.
An employer in California will be required to pay for:
- The cost of their employee’s uniforms;
- Replacements of uniforms when necessary because of normal wear and tear;
- Any special required upkeep, such as dry cleaning.
Can Employers Enforce Makeup Requirements in the Workplace?
The law permits an employer to enforce reasonable grooming and appearance requirements. In order to be legal, the requirements cannot discriminate on the basis of:
Employers, however, may institute different requirements for female and male employees. The requirements may constitute sex or gender discrimination if they:
- Impact one sex or gender group adversely;
- Restrict employment opportunities for one group;
- Are demeaning to the group to which they apply.
Additionally, the requirements must be related to the job. For example, a professional image may be important for certain types of job positions.
Examples of positions where makeup requirements may be permitted include:
- Beverage employees, for example, bartenders or cocktail waitresses;
- Restaurant waitresses;
- Flight attendants;
- Newscasters and reporters;
- Clothing retail associates.
If an individual has any questions about this issue, they should consult with an employment law attorney in their area who can advise them of the local applicable laws.
Examples of Impermissible Differences
Employers are not permitted to institute certain differences, including:
- Requiring only one of the sexes to wear a uniform;
- Having different weight requirements for males and females, with one requirement being more burdensome to meet than the other;
- Having grooming or appearance requirements that are unrelated to the individual’s employment.
These may constitute sex discrimination on grooming and appearance.
Examples of Permissible Differences
Courts have permitted employers to institute different requirements in grooming and appearances, including:
- A requirement that males wear ties and females wear skirts or dresses;
- Some states, for example, California, have enacted laws that require employers to provide females with the option to wear pants in the workplace;
- A requirement that males not wear jewelry, as long as this requirement was meant to protect the company’s business image;
- Differing requirements as to hair length and facial hair for men and women; and
- Requiring female bartenders to wear makeup and forbidding male bartenders from wearing makeup, for example, in Nevada.
What Are Some Other Tips on Grooming and Appearance Requirements?
Requirements related to grooming and appearance have to be related to an individual’s job in some way. In addition, an employee may be in violation of a certain policy for religious reasons.
Employers should not react quickly if they see a violation. Instead, they should discuss the issue with the employee prior to taking any other action.
If an employer terminates an employee and the employee violated the employer’s policy for a religious reason, that employer may face a lawsuit based on religious discrimination. Employers cannot specifically forbid employees from wearing union-related clothing.
Rules against wearing specific types of clothing, for example, t-shirts, may be legitimately used to prevent employees from wearing union-related clothing of that type. Employees are permitted to wear union buttons and pins at work unless it creates a safety risk.
On the other hand, if the employer has a dress code that forbids wearing buttons or pins of any type, including patriotic symbols such as flags, forbidding union buttons or pins may be possible.
What Should I Do in the Case of a Discriminatory Grooming or Appearance Policy?
If an employer has a policy that applies to appearance or grooming that discriminates on the basis of religion, most likely, the employer will be required to make some reasonable accommodations for employees who experience the impact of the policy.
For example, in the case of appearance and grooming, an employer would be required to allow the employee to maintain their appearance in accordance with their religion or come up with an alternative that satisfies both the employer and the employee.
If an employee still believes they have been the victim of discrimination on the basis of religion, they can file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. In the majority of cases, an employee is required to file a complaint with the EEOC before they can file a civil lawsuit in federal court.
Many states have agencies that are the equivalent of the EEOC, where an employee can lodge a complaint.
Do I Need an Attorney if My Employer Instituted an Appearance/Grooming Requirement That Discriminates Based on Gender or Sex?
If you believe that grooming or appearance requirements in your workplace have exceeded their scope or are discriminatory, you should consult with a discrimination lawyer.
Your employment law attorney can advise you of your rights as an employee as well as determine if you have a valid case on the basis of gender or sex discrimination.