by Greg Grisham
Originally published: May 22, 2017
Personal dress and appearance is a common way individuals express their personality, including their political and religious views. Unfortunately, the personal choices individuals make in attire, hairstyle and other personal appearance factors may collide with workplace rules, creating conflicts.
Federal U.S. law does not directly regulate employer dress codes or appearance policies. However, it does prohibit employers from discriminating against employees based on a number of protected characteristics including, for example, religion, sex, race and national origin. This prohibition on discrimination can implicate employer dress codes if they have a disparate impact on individuals in a protected classification or if the policy is selectively enforced. Federal law also requires U.S. employers to reasonably accommodate the religious practices of employees unless doing so would result in an undue hardship. Additionally, some employer dress code/appearance policies may violate U.S. labor law. Furthermore, U.S. employers must also be aware of state and local laws, which often provide greater protections for employees than provided by federal law. Finally, multinational employers must be aware of the laws in foreign jurisdictions, which may differ significantly from U.S. law. This article discusses significant U.S. laws that may impact employer dress code and appearance polices, while Part II of this article addresses the laws of significant European jurisdictions.