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Summer’s Here! Does Dress Code Present Issues for You?


From our friend Toni Ahl at EEO Advantage

When I think of summer, I think of flip flops, swimsuits and ice cream. I realize summer brings different thoughts to everyone. In Louisville, summer means temperatures in the 90’s with matching humidity. As the weatherman said the other morning, “When you walk out, you can see the air.”

If your company does not have a dress code, I’m sure summer can present some interesting issues. Just how casual will you allow your workforce to be? Does dress in the office really matter? Even if you have a dress code, words are often interpreted in ways you may not expect.

To some people casual means really casual as can be seen by the way some folks go out in public. My definition of casual may be totally different than yours and can vary by age, area of the country and many more characteristics. Does casual mean shorts and a tank top or, rather, khakis and a polo shirt? Be as specific as possible if you have a dress code and publish it so there are not misunderstandings or misconceptions of the terms.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) does not usually deal with dress code issues. However, if an employee requests an accommodation due to his/her religious beliefs, an employer may need to give an exemption from its stated policy. This is also true of grooming standards. Policies may need to be examined before a request is denied.

If, for example, a Muslim employee requests to wear a hajib, the employer needs to consider the request. Even if the employer’s policy states that head coverings may not be worn, because the hajib is religious in nature, it may be allowed. The employer would have the right to raise a legitimate non-discriminatory reason for denying the request but should be prepared to defend its position. In this case, the employer could not just cite its policy and prevail.

Grooming standard cases often come up when a company has a no facial hair policy. Although the policy is neutral on its face, it has an adverse impact on certain groups of individuals who, if they shave on a regular basis, can get a skin condition called pseudofolliculitis. Companies often argue that being clean shaven is a safety issue. Each case must be considered on a case-by-case basis to determine if the standard should be allowed.

Enjoy your summer!

If you have any suggestions you would like me to address, feel free to contact me at eeoadvantage@gmail.com. You may also reach me at (502) 553-7648 if I can assist you with questions or training needs.

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