Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Notorious Professional Dress Codes

Local radio station reported yesterday that  some male employees were reprimanded for violating their company's dress code. They arrived at work wearing shorts on an assigned casual day, but were sent home to change. The men then came back to work in skirts. Believe it or not, no further measures were taken against them. 

If you work at a place that enforces a formal dress code, you probably understand why these men went  to such an extent. As adults, it's frustrating to be told how to dress. There is an image that companies are trying to hold up to, which is understandable. And at times the way some employees dare show up at work make dress code policies critical. But to what extent can businesses enforce their standards on employees? 

While a dress code policy can be implemented under regulations governing employee rights, it should be broad and apply to all employees. Businesses must avoid any rules  that may violate employment discrimination laws. These range from prohibiting clothing that may  discriminate against an individual's disability, religion, or even weight. But companies are bound by the 'reasonable accommodation' standard, which means that while their policies should be flexible, any changes shouldn't cause businesses undue hardship.

The rules may seem simple, but many companies find themselves walking a fine line. Last year, a local Muslim woman raised a complaint against Abercombie & Fitch for refusing to hire her because she wore a headscarf. The EEOC was to later conduct an investigation and rule in her favor. She was not the first to raise the issue against the retailer and win. But what made this particular ruling odd is that Abercombie is notorious for pitching a seductive brand name that is reflected in its staff's attire and mannerism. Walk into any Abercombie store and you're bound to run into scantily dressed ladies and attractive males. While the claim against the retailer was welcome,  it was strange because it seemed to contradict this image. 

But it's important to note that not every complaint against a dress code is valid. Courts rule on an individual basis depending on the facts and evidence in each case, should one arise. To be accommodated, employees must have a need for accommodation and it must cause a conflict at work. 

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