When Dress Codes Become Sex Discrimination

When Dress Codes Become Sex Discrimination
Nov 17, 2019

Some California workplaces require their employees to adhere to a specific dress code, which may involve wearing a uniform or dressing according to a certain standard. While dress requirements can do a lot of good for the image and morale of a company, sometimes dress codes may seem to be inequitable in their treatment of men and women. So it is helpful to understand at what point a dress code crosses the line into sex discrimination.

As Bizjournals explains, federal courts have usually had no problems with dress codes that mirror popularly known norms of what women and men usually wear. For instance, a man may be forbidden from having long hair, while no such restrictions exist for women. Some workplaces ban piercings in men but allow them for women. Men may be required to cover their legs with long pants but women may vary between pants or skirts, though skirt lengths might be restricted.

However, a dress code cannot be too burdensome on people of one sex. A business could get into trouble if, for example, it institutes requirements on women that are over and beyond what might be considered reasonable attire. The employer might require clothing that is too elaborate or intricate hairstyles. Anything that necessitates a lot of effort to prepare for work might be interpreted by a judge to be evidence of sex discrimination.

Problems may also arise if an employer is too vague about what the dress code requires. Some employers may tell a woman to dress more femininely. However, this might cross the line into sex discrimination since it directly feeds into a gender stereotype. Warning someone about their dress can also cross the line if the employer is too direct about how the dress of the worker makes the worker appear. Harvard Business Review warns that employers, if not careful, could run the risk of being discriminatory while discussing the attire of a worker.

Dress codes can run afoul of other civil rights requirements in the state of California. For instance, women cannot be prevented from wearing pants. Disabled individuals cannot be required to wear certain clothing, as it may make it harder for them to move around or perform work.  Also, transgendered individuals cannot be banned from dressing as the gender they identify with. A proper dress code is one that workers can easily comprehend and does not unfairly burden a group of people.

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