From the length of one’s hair, to the number and location of visible tattoos, to recognizing gender non-conformity style, to creating a summer dress code, employers are facing an increased need to determine their organization’s culture and policies, as well as following federal and state laws. How does an organization balance employees’ rights to express themselves with the organization’s rights to determine its legitimate business needs while maintaining an inclusive work environment? The pitfalls for employers are many. More businesses are likely to face these issues especially now that research is confirming these types of biases exist broadly across U. S. workplaces. The potential for organizational errors are plentiful. Organizations expect employees to use sound judgment in their dress and grooming, however, what if the employee’s sense of dress and grooming varies from the organizations? After all, types of self-expression have become more commonplace with society demonstrating more acceptances in people’s choices of self-expression—shouldn’t the workplace reflect this change in social rules too? Religious dress and dress that defies gender stereotypes are the two areas that are the most challenging for employers. These issues and others will be discussed.
Dress codes are receiving a fair amount of attention in the courts these days. There have been a number of precedent-setting lawsuits dealing with dress codes’ requirements and how those requirements, even inadvertently, discriminate against potential and current employees based on their gender, religion and race, to name a few. It is critical that human resources professionals and managers understand the importance of a discriminatory free dress code to ensure all job candidates and employees are treated fairly and equitably.