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5345 : Discriminatory Dress Codes
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Memo 5345-4-4: Discriminatory Dress Codes TABLE OF CONTENTS
     EMPLOYERS MUST AVOID ILLEGAL DISCRIMINATION IN DRESS CODES
     LEGAL CONSEQUENCES
     RELATED MEMOS

QUESTIONS
When can dress and grooming codes be discriminatory?
Is it religious discrimination to prohibit religious attire at work?
May a company have different dress codes for male and female employees?
When may a company require employees to be clean-shaven?
Is a rule prohibiting only male employees from wearing earrings legal?
Is it sex discrimination if only male employees are required to have short hair?
View all questions for this Memo

Note: Religious organization advisory.1

Note: This Memo applies to all employees, whether exempt, non-exempt, full-time, part-time, temporary, new, or regular.2 From here on, the term "individuals" means applicants and employees.

EMPLOYERS MUST AVOID ILLEGAL DISCRIMINATION IN DRESS CODES

Employers may have a company dress code and make employment decisions based on how individuals dress and groom. See Memo 5340 Dress & Grooming Codes. However, employers must be careful to avoid policies that may result in illegal discrimination.

Basically, employers may not have a dress and grooming code that affects only one class of employees because of their race, color, national origin, ethnicity, sex, religion, disability, or other protected classification. These are "permanent" or "fixed" characteristics of individuals, and employers may not make employment decisions based on these characteristics.3

        Example: Joe's employee handbook prohibits employees from wearing all-braided hairstyles at work. Betty shows up for work with her hair in "corn row" braids. Joe reprimands Betty for violating the dress code.

        Since Betty may either change her hairstyle or keep it covered, Joe's dress code is probably not considered illegal discrimination. But, Joe may be liable for discrimination if he enforced his dress code only against women or employees of Betty's race, but allowed men or employees of other races to violate the dress code rules without punishment.4

Still, even an unbiased dress code may unintentionally result in illegal discrimination. This may happen, for example, when a dress code:

  • clashes with an employee's medical condition,
  • burdens one race,
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