Strict Dress Codes May Lead to Discrimination Claims



Company dress codes run the gamut from requiring workers to wear formal business attire to allowing them to sport jeans and T-shirts. Employers can usually set guidelines for business-appropriate attire, but they may face lawsuits if they get too particular about how women or men should dress.

For instance, a woman in Long Island, N.Y., is suing her employer for discrimination because she was allegedly fired for dressing too much like a man, according to The New York Post. The timeshare saleswoman, who is a lesbian, wore a pantsuit and tie to work, which an HR representative allegedly told her was unprofessional. The saleswoman was told to "observe the ladies" in the department, who she said wore dresses and heels.

Employers can generally set different dress standards for men and women, but they need to be careful not to run afoul of laws that protect workers based on sex, sexual orientation and gender identity. Here are SHRM Online resources and news articles from other trusted media outlets on dress codes and discrimination.

Reasonable Differences Historically Allowed

Some employers have dress codes that require men to have short hair and wear pants and allow women to have hair of any length and wear dresses or skirts. Women may be required to wear make-up and men might be told not to. Federal courts have historically allowed different standards if policies are reasonable and don't place a significantly higher burden on one gender in terms of the cost and time it takes to comply. However, employers may get into legal trouble if they tell workers to conform to sex-based stereotypes, such as asking women to dress or act more feminine or men to appear more masculine.

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