As a private employer, you can impose a dress code on employees, including grooming or jewelry requirements imposed for safety reasons. But be sure your regulations doesn’t fall afoul of laws against discrimination or harassment.
In addition, you don’t want to create overly restrictive requirements that engender resentment and affect morale.
- Create a clear policy in writing and distribute it to all employees. Base the policy on business reasons – such as promoting the company’s image or reflects the company’s culture.
- Rules can be imposed for health and safety reasons. For example, staff working in a kitchen must tie their hair back and cover it for hygiene reasons. And an industrial employer can require long, loose hair to be tied back to prevent accidents.
- Everyone has a different perception of “professional” or “business casual” attire. Clearly explain what your organization considers appropriate dress so employees don’t to decide on their own. If your company has a casual dress policy, specify what clothing – for example, jeans, sweat suits and shorts – is considered inappropriate.
- Apply the policy uniformly and consistently to all employees.
- Be prepared to accommodate employees who require exceptions for disabilities, ethnicities or religious practices.
Common challenges to employee dress codes include charges that the dress code discriminates on the basis of sex or gender, race, ethnicity and national origin, disability, and religion.
- Harassment. Employees required to dress in a sexual or revealing way may bring suit for harassment.
- Gender discrimination. California currently is the only state that makes it unlawful to prohibit employees from wearing pants because of their gender. The California law does make exception so employees in certain occupations can be required to wear uniforms.
- Uniform costs. Employers that require uniforms and gear, such as steel-toed boots for construction workers, cannot require employees to foot the bill for that clothing. Retailers should also take note of a $2.2 million settlement Abercrombie & Fitch agreed to pay in 2003. California labor regulators brought suit over allegations that the company required store employees to buy its clothes.
- Religious practices. Employers may prohibit tattoos and body piercings inconsistent with an organization’s branding, values, or mission. Tattoos featuring profanity, demeaning images, or slogans or images offensive to other employees – for example, a Confederate flag – can also be disallowed. However, if a tattoo or piercing reflects an employee’s religious belief, the employer should accommodate that belief unless it would impose an undue hardship on the employer’s business. Similarly, some religions require their followers to wear beards, particular items of jewelry or clothing. Again, employers must do their best to accommodate such religious practices, provided they don’t interfere with workers’ health or safety.