Dress Code Policy
Employers generally have the right to establish an office or business dress code policy as a condition of employment.
For example, employers may define what business casual dress means and prohibit employees from wearing T-shirts, shorts, flip-flops and other overly-casual attire. Employers generally may also discipline employees for violating an office or business dress code policy.
According to a survey of 1,000 adults conducted in June 2011, flip-flops, miniskirts and strapless tops were the most inappropriate summer work attire, in that order.
However, as with all policies that govern employees, an employer covered by relevant discrimination laws must apply a dress code policy and related discipline equally to all employees in the same group. The employer must also accommodate dress and grooming based on the sincere religious beliefs of employees, unless it causes undue hardship. Otherwise, the employer faces the threat of discrimination lawsuits.
A common discrimination that employees allege regarding a company dress code policy, is on the basis of sex. That's particularly so when employers have different dress code policies for each gender, and one or both are perceived by employees of a gender as unfairly singling them out.
Despite that sex discrimination is illegal, the courts have generally upheld employers' rights to establish gender-differentiated dress codes anyway, because men and women have customarily dressed differently. However, the courts generally don't let employers get away with establishing or enforcing dress codes in ways that blatantly discriminate based on gender.
For example, a court would likely decide that an employer has the right to require men to wear ties at work, while not equally requiring women to wear them too. But a court likely wouldn't let an employer get away with permitting men to wear T-shirts clearly in violation of the employer's dress code policy, while unfairly disciplining or harassing women for wearing them too.
A relatively new discrimination that employees are alleging on the basis of sex, involves dress-code enforcement that ultimately punishes men or women for not being "masculine" or "feminine" enough based on gender stereotypes. Another relatively new one is on the basis of religion, in regard to workplace dress code policies that don't allow employees to display body piercings or tattoos allegedly related to their religious beliefs.
Employers also generally have the right to establish an office or business dress code policy that requires employees to wear work uniforms as a condition of employment. Employers may require employees to pay for their own uniforms too, such as through paycheck deductions.
However, employers may not profit from requiring employees to purchase work uniforms. Additionally, work uniform cost may not drop employee wages below the minimum wage or standard overtime pay for those who are eligible, regardless of how and where the employees purchase their uniforms.
If you think that your employer illegally discriminated against you regarding an office or business dress code policy, then you may file a discrimination charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or a state equivalent. Don't wait too long, as a statute of limitations applies for taking legal action.
You must file a discrimination charge with the EEOC (or state equivalent) to preserve your right to file a lawsuit, should the EEOC not file one on your behalf. Hiring an attorney to file your charge in legalese might increase your chances that the EEOC will see enough merit in your case to pursue it in court or permit you to do so. Many attorneys take discrimination cases on contingency.
Even if it's not discriminatory in the legal sense per se, an employee may still challenge serious employer discipline against him or her for company policy violation, including a dress code policy. See an attorney about that.
If the cost of your work uniforms drops your pay below the minimum wage or standard overtime pay for which you're eligible, consult an attorney or contact the Wage and Hour Division of the U.S. Department of Labor or state equivalent.