As a general rule, dress codes are legal for employers to have. As Steven Sack notes in his book, “Fired!”, “[dress codes] are legal provided the policies do not unfairly impact a group of workers such as females.” But what do you do when a dress code does unfairly discriminate against a group of people, and what does that look like?
What is a Dress Code?
In simple terms, a “dress code” refers to any rule implemented by an employer about how their employees should dress, as well as other aspects of their appearance. These rules could dictate what types of clothing a person wears (such as dictating they must wear a uniform, or that they must wear business casual), what hairstyles they can use, or whether they can wear makeup or jewelry. While employers have latitude to decide their dress codes, there are some limits, specifically when it comes to discriminating against employees.
How Can a Dress Code Be Discriminatory?
The most obvious way that a dress code can result in discrimination is when it has vastly different standards between men and women, such as by forcing women to wear revealing clothing when men have no such requirements. However, dress codes can discriminate in less obvious ways too, such as by prohibiting hairstyles commonly worn by people from certain ethnic groups. Another example would be refusing to give reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities where appropriate.
What Effect Does Dress Code Discrimination Have?
While some of these policies may be justified due to the specific nature of a business or an employee’s job, dress codes can be used to discriminate by unfairly punishing employees for infractions. When employees violate the dress code, that can create a rationale for other discriminatory acts, such as cutting their pay, denying them promotions, or even ultimately firing them. Even dress codes that are superficially non-discriminatory can still be used in a discriminatory way if they are applied unevenly against marginalized employees.
What Should You Do?
If you have been the victim of workplace discrimination as a result of your company’s dress code, you should speak to a lawyer as soon as possible. The attorney can help you to understand your legal options, and help you decide what may work best for you. The sooner you contact an employment law attorney, the quicker you will understand your job rights.
Steven Mitchell Sack, the Employee’s Lawyer, is a New York employment lawyer with more than 41 years’ experience handling the many aspects of employment law. His new book, “Fired!: Protect Your Rights & FIGHT BACK If You’re Terminated, Laid Off, Downsized, Restructured, Forced to Resign or Quit,” is available in hardback, and contains valuable advice on dealing with employment and labor law issues. To purchase the book, feel free to contact Steven Sack at 917-371-8000 or visit the website at legalstratpub.com. To inquire about a legal matter, please feel free to contact attorney Steven Sack at 917-371-8000 or firstname.lastname@example.org.