Some businesses have dress codes for their employees. If your employer has a different dress code for its male and female workers, you might wonder whether it is legally allowed to implement the difference in the dress codes based on gender. This practice is particularly common in the service industry with servers. Some restaurants will have different dress code requirements for their male and female workers. As long as the dress code requirements are essentially similar for men and women, differential dress codes are not unlawful. The attorneys at Swartz Swidler can help you to determine whether the dress code at your place of employment is discriminatory or whether it is legal.
Differences in dress code standards for male and female workers
Under state and federal anti-discrimination laws, discriminating against workers based on sex is unlawful. This means that employers are required to treat their male and female workers equally. Dress codes reflect that society still believes that fundamental differences exist between men and women. Society still holds the belief that men and women have differences in how they think and act and how they express themselves. The society also still believes that men and women should have different roles in their relationships and families and that they should dress differently from each other.
Courts have struggled with how to approach differential dress codes for employees based on ex. Employees who have been fired or disciplined for failing to conform to their employers’ beliefs about how women and men should act have been more successful. For example, a woman who was employed by Price Waterhouse as an accountant sued when she was denied a partnership. She was told by her employer that she needed to dress, act, and speak in a more feminine manner and that she was too aggressive. When her case was heard by the U.S. Supreme Court, she prevailed. The court found that her employer had engaged in prohibited sex discrimination because she was penalized for not living up to the company’s idea of the way women should act.
Dress codes that sexualize women
Claims involving differential dress codes have not been as successful. In general, federal courts have found that dress codes that require women and men to dress differently from each other and in a way that follows gender stereotypes are lawful.
For example, courts have found that rules such as short hair for men but long hair for women or suits for men but skirts for women are allowed. Even some dress codes that sexualize women have been held to be lawful. For example, women who worked at Harrah’s Casino sued because its dress code required them to style, curl, or tease their hair. The dress code also required them to wear stockings and makeup, including lipstick. The court that heard that case found that the dress code was lawful. This means that dress codes that are designed to make women look more attractive are generally lawful.
While the Harrah’s case involved a business that had a legitimate purpose for mandating that its female employees wear sexier clothing because of its image, businesses that require women to dress in sexy uniforms that do not have any legitimate purpose for doing so may be violating the anti-discrimination laws. An attorney can evaluate your case and explain to you whether you might have a claim for sexual harassment.
There are certain times when a court might find that a differential dress code is unlawful, however. For example, if a dress code places a much higher burden on one gender as compared to the other, a court might find that it amounts to unlawful sex discrimination. For example, if your workplace requires all of the women to wear expensive costumes while the men do not have to wear any costumes, you might be able to claim sex discrimination based on the increased expense that you must bear because of the costume requirements for women.
Dress codes for only one gender
While employers are allowed to have different dress codes for men and women, they are not allowed to have dress codes for only one gender. For example, it is illegal for an employer to require all of its female employees to wear skirts, heels, and makeup if it allows the men to dress however they want.
Dress code grooming requirements
Employers are generally allowed to include grooming requirements in their dress codes for men and women. For example, they can tell their employees that men must have short hair while allowing women to have long hair. They can sometimes tell men to be clean-shaven. However, shaving requirements may be problematic when they are implemented against male employees who have certain religious beliefs. Some religions prohibit men from shaving their beards. If an employer tries to enforce a grooming standard to require a man who has a religion that prohibits shaving to shave, the employer may violate federal and state anti-discrimination laws.
Get help from an experienced employment law attorney at Swartz Swidler
While differential dress codes may seem to be unfair, they are largely allowed. Employers have significant latitude when they implement dress codes for their employees. However, they cannot have dress codes for only one gender or implement dress codes that place an undue burden on one gender over the other. Grooming standards that conflict with the religious beliefs of an employee may also be unlawful if the employer enforces them against that employee. If you think that your employer has engaged in unlawful sex-based discrimination with its dress code and grooming standard, you might want to talk to an experienced employment law attorney. The attorneys at Swartz Swidler might review your employer’s dress code and explain whether or not you have valid grounds to file a complaint. Contact us today to schedule a consultation so that you can learn more about the rights that you might have by calling us or by filling out our online contact form.