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Can New York employers control workers’ grooming and clothing?

On Behalf of | Oct 13, 2023 | Employment Law

Perhaps you feel it important for workers to present a consistent, unified appearance to your customers. Implementing a dress code or grooming standards can help, but is that even legal these days?

Under New York law, employers may develop and enforce dress and grooming standards. However, you must avoid interfering with your employees’ right to a discrimination-free workplace.

Is it religious discrimination?

State and federal laws prohibit discrimination against those who follow faiths that require them to wear particular garments or not cut their hair. That means you cannot prohibit employees from wearing religious garb like head coverings for Muslim women or having a beard if they’re a Sikh man.

Is it sex discrimination?

As you know, sex (gender) discrimination is also unlawful, but it can be easy for employers to engage in it accidentally. For example, insisting that your female staff follow a dress code while your male workers can wear whatever they want could be a form of discrimination.

How should you address employee appearance?

Perhaps shifting your focus from specific garments and hairstyles to neatness and color similarity can meet your needs. For example, you could require all your employees to wear black bottoms (pants or skirts) and white tops, instead of having the women wear dresses and the men wear suits. You can choose your own colors to link the dress code with your business.

What if you create a fair dress code, but a worker accuses you of discrimination anyway? You may be able to refute their claims by providing evidence about your employment policies, including your dress code. With experienced legal guidance, documentation can go a long way in proving that you did not violate any employee’s rights.

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