Discriminatory work dress codes are a contentious issue in many workplaces. Dress codes may unfairly target certain groups of employees based on their gender, race, religion, disability, or other personal characteristics. These dress codes can take many forms, such as: requiring women to wear high heels, dresses, or makeup; banning visible tattoos; requiring or prohibiting specific hairstyles; banning certain garments, such as long skirts or dresses; or requiring uniforms that are not accommodative.
One form of discriminatory work dress code may target women. Workplaces may have requirements for women to wear high heels, makeup, skirts, or dresses. These requirements can be uncomfortable, impractical, and even dangerous in some cases. For example, wearing high heels can cause long-term damage to a woman’s feet or back, while wearing a skirt or dress can make it difficult to perform certain physical tasks. Additionally, these requirements can be a form of gender discrimination, as they reinforce the idea that women are expected to present themselves in a certain way in the workplace – gender stereotyping.
Another form of discriminatory work dress codes are those that target people of color. Some employers may require employees to wear their hair in a certain way, such as straightening it or keeping it short. This can be particularly harmful to Black employees, who may be forced to conform to Eurocentric beauty standards in order to keep their jobs. Similarly, employers may prohibit visible tattoos or piercings, which can disproportionately impact people of color who may have cultural or religious tattoos or piercings.
Discriminatory work dress codes can also impact employees who practice certain religions. For example, some employers may require employees to remove head coverings or religious jewelry, which can be a violation of an employee’s religious beliefs. This can make it difficult for people to practice their religion in the workplace and can even be a form of religious discrimination.
Additionally, strict dress codes may impact employees with disabilities. Constrictive clothing or uniforms may be uncomfortable or obstructive for employees with certain disabilities.
There are a number of reasons why dress codes persist in many workplaces. Employers may believe that these dress codes are necessary to maintain a certain level of professionalism or to uphold the company’s brand image. Some employers may implement dress codes for the safety of employees. Others may believe that these dress codes are simply a part of the job and that employees should be willing to conform to them in order to keep their jobs.
There may be a number of reasons for an employer’s dress code. However, it is important to recognize that dress codes can be harmful to employees, can unlawfully single out an employee or group of employees, and can even create a hostile work environment. When there is no legitimate business reason for a particular requirement, this can amount to unlawful discrimination.
Employers should make sure that they take an inclusive approach to workplace attire. This can involve allowing employees to dress in a way that feels comfortable and professional for them, without imposing unnecessary requirements that may discriminate against employees based on gender, race, religion, disability, or other protected characteristics. Failing to take an inclusive approach can create a broader culture of discrimination and bias.
Discriminatory work dress codes do still exist. If you are an employee facing an employer that has or is implementing a dress code that requires you to conform to gender stereotypes; leave your race, religion, or culture outside the company doors; or is unnecessarily restrictive due to a disability, you may have rights that are protected. There may be legitimate business reasons for certain aspects of an employer’s dress code, which may make determining whether the dress code is discriminatory. This is why we have experienced employment lawyers available for consultation to discuss your concerns related to the dress code, your job requirements, and the working environment to determine if your rights are being violated. Before you act, know your rights.