Most workplaces have some type of dress code. Some require uniforms, while others allow each employee to make his or her own fashion choices. When it comes to the dress code, how much of your appearance can your employer regulate?
In general, California law allows employers to set their own rules for employee’s dress and appearance. Employers are allowed to require uniforms of their own design, or can prescribe what color, style, form, or quality of clothing employees must wear. For example, the employer could require employees to wear generic red polo shirts with black slacks.
In addition to clothing, employers are allowed to regulate accessories, hairstyles, and general personal hygiene and grooming. For instance, an employer could prohibit jewelry at work or could refuse to hire a person with visible tattoos. As long as these rules apply to everyone fairly, they are usually allowed.
Whether or not the dress code is applied fairly to employees is often a subject of debate. Employers usually get into legal trouble when their dress codes fail to make accommodations for religious beliefs or apply differently to each gender.
When a person’s religion requires or prohibits a certain item of clothing or an accessory, that person’s employer must make an exception to the dress code rules unless there is a compelling business reason not to. Usually, compelling reasons only include situations where an article of clothing or accessory may pose a safety or health risk.
The rules for dress code based on gender are much more relaxed. While gender discrimination is usually strictly prohibited, California’s Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has held that gender-based dress codes are allowed so long as the policy does not put a disproportionate burden on one sex.
In a case called Jespersen v. Harrah’s Operating Company, the Ninth Circuit found that gender-based dress codes which required women to wear makeup and style their hair did not constitute discrimination. The opinion, which was written by a female justice, found that wearing makeup and styling hair did not constitute a “disproportionate burden” on women.
As a result, similar types of dress code policies which forbid long hair and jewelry on men but require it on women are generally allowed. In contrast, an office which required men to wear suits but allowed women to dress casually may be a more successful target for a Sacramento sex discrimination lawsuit.
There is one exception to gendered dress code policies: women in California cannot be forced to wear skirts and must have the option of wearing pants.
If you need an exception to your employer’s dress code because of a disability or religious belief, you must inform your employer. If your employer refuses to accommodate legitimate requests for dress code exceptions, you may have a claim for discrimination. Contact us today to speak with an experienced attorney for discrimination in Sacramento workplace.
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