Whether or not an employer can enforce grooming and appearance requirements will depend on a variety of different factors. Generally speaking, there are grooming and appearance requirements that are established by your workplace.
If you agree to the grooming and appearance requirements by accepting the position and the employee rules as outlined in the employee handbook, then you must comply with the employee dress code. Typically, all policies regarding grooming and appearance requirements will be outlined in an employee handbook.
An employee handbook is a collection of information that is provided to each new employee at the start of their employment. The employment handbook provides information regarding company rules and policies, which often include a dress code that specifies grooming and appearance requirements.
Employee handbooks are often used as a way to protect an employer against certain claims, such as an unfair treatment claim brought against them by an employee who may object to grooming and appearance requirements.
Unless the text of an employee handbook clearly indicates otherwise, an employee handbook may be considered a legally binding document between an employer and their employees. This means that it is permissible for an employee to sue their employer if the employer fails to honor any of the provisions contained within the employee handbook.
Similarly, an employer can utilize the handbook as a reason for terminating employment, such as by failing to maintain proper grooming and appearance requirements. Generally speaking, courts will always consider an employee handbook to be an extension of the employee contract.
It is important to note that there are currently no federal laws that specifically outline what types of dress codes are permissible and what types are not permissible at work. However, in general, employers are allowed to institute reasonable grooming and appearance requirements so long as the employers don’t discriminate on the basis of gender, race, or religion.
Further, the grooming and appearance requirements must be related to the requirements of the job. In other words, a grooming or appearance requirement is permissible if it doesn’t discriminate between men and women and serves some business purpose. As such, an employer may still be able to enforce dress codes at work while still being in compliance with these anti-discrimination laws.
Are Different Requirements for Men and Women Permissible?
In short, it depends. A workplace policy that has different grooming and appearance requirements for men and women is not automatically discriminatory. Different grooming and dress requirements are permissible so long as they impose an equal burden on males and females.
This means that the grooming and dress requirements may not limit the employment opportunities of one sex and not the other. If the different requirements do limit the opportunities of one sex and not the other, then that might constitute work discrimination.
Work discrimination is the term that describes when an employee, or potential employee, is treated less favorably than other similar employees solely due to the fact that they possess certain characteristics, such as being of a different sex.
Thus, gender is a protected class in which an employer’s grooming and appearance requirements cannot interfere with. As such, any employer’s dress code that places different standards upon men and women may be considered illegal on its face due to sex discrimination. In other words, a dress code requiring certain grooming and appearance requirements cannot reinforce stereotypes regarding gender.
Different requirements for men and women that are mostly the same for both genders and only differ in a few ways will likely not face much opposition. However, there are also local laws in states, such as California, which have enacted special dress code laws that compel employers to allow women to wear pants in the workplace. As such, it is important to understand if your state has restrictions on dress codes. A discrimination lawyer will be familiar with all local and federal laws governing dress codes.
Examples of Permissible Differences
There have been many court cases that have provided examples of permissible differences in grooming and appearance requirements for men and women. Common examples of permissible differences in grooming and appearance requirements include:
- A requirement that men wear business wear, including dress shirts and ties, and women wear skirts or dresses;
- A requirement that men not wear jewelry, so long as this requirement was meant to protect the company’s business image or as a safety mechanism;
- Differing requirements as to hair length and facial hair for males and females.
Once again, all of the above differences are only allowed when they don’t restrict employment opportunities for one sex and not the other, and so long as they serve some business purpose.
Examples of Impermissible Differences
There have also been many court cases that have provided examples of impermissible differences in grooming and appearance requirements for men and women. Common examples of permissible differences in grooming and appearance requirements include:
- Require only one sex to wear a uniform and not the other sex;
- Have different weight requirements for men and women, with one being more burdensome to meet than the other;
- Have grooming or appearance requirements that are entirely unrelated to the individual’s employment and serve no business purpose, such as requiring women to apply a certain level of makeup.
A Brief Summary
In sum, employers are allowed to have different grooming and appearance standards for men and women, so long as the requirements are equally burdensome and so long as they do not restrict employment opportunities. Further, the requirements must be related to the job in some way.
It is also important to remember that there are currently no federal laws that specifically outline what types of dress codes are permissible and what types are not permissible at work. However, the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) does not state that an employee must maintain certain grooming or appearances to work. However, the FLSA does allow employers to establish dress codes. They also provide guidance to employers who wish to create an employee handbook containing certain grooming and appearance requirements.
Finally, if a workplace does commit sex discrimination based on grooming and appearance requirements, they may be liable for damages. The legal remedies that are available for sex discrimination will generally depend on the damages and losses that the plaintiff suffered. For instance, the plaintiff may have been fired based on a discriminatory action. If so, the legal remedy will usually be to restore the employee to their former position or pay them monetary damages.
Do I Need a Discrimination Lawyer?
As can be seen, there are numerous dress code laws and constitutional protections that will dictate what an employee may or may not choose to wear. As such, if you are having any issues regarding dress codes as they relate to grooming and appearance, it is important to immediately consult with an experienced employment lawyer.
An experienced discrimination lawyer will be able to inform you of both federal and state dress code laws, as well as review any executed employment contracts regarding grooming and appearance requirements.
You might have been wrongfully punished or terminated as a result of grooming and appearance requirements. If that is the case, an attorney can assist you in bringing a civil claim against your employer to recover any damages that you may have suffered. Finally, an attorney will also be able to represent you in court, as necessary.