Workplace dress code is something we are asked about all the time. Many employers have a “formal” dress policy, but some have a less formal policy that may be subject to interpretation. The FAQ is whether this is permissible.
The short answer is that an employer may impose a certain dress or appearance code on its employees. There is no such thing as “appearance” discrimination – meaning that it is permissible for an employer to refuse to hire someone for being unattractive or overweight.
This could become an issue is if the employer is actually discriminating on the basis of age or a disability. Another area where dress codes can become problematic is in the area of religion. Some employees will need a religious accommodation in the form of relief from a dress code in order to comply with their religious beliefs.
For example, a Muslim woman might need to wear a hijab even though the employer has a no head wear policy. This factual scenario was the subject of a US Supreme Court decision in 2015 in EEOC v. Abercrombie & Fitch. In the case, the Court said that a prospective employee does not have to explicitly request relief from a dress code policy if it is obvious to the employer that he or she will need an accommodation. If the need for the religious accommodation is then a factor in a decision not to hire, the employee may have a case for discrimination or failure to accommodate under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
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