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When Casual Gets Too Casual

4.7.16

The article, “When Casual Gets Too Casual,” featured in IE3, explored the rise of “Casual Everyday” dress culture in the workplace and how to deal with challenges that arise when casual gets too casual.

Alexa Miller provided insight on various topics relating the company dress code policies.

Alexa noted that the employee should be allowed to explain any circumstances that might be responsible for the situation, and that such circumstances might require an accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities act.

“For example, body odor or bad breath may not be the result of poor hygiene, but rather, a medical condition or a side effect too medication,” Alexa explained.

Alexa pointed out that some workplace dress codes include regulations limiting the size and number of visible tattoos. She also pointed out that certain cultural or religious traditions may form the basis for certain piercings or body art. In such cases, employers should tread carefully.

“If an employee raises a religious objection to the rule (against piercings or body art), management may have a duty to accommodate and should consult counsel,” Alexa stated.

Alexa emphasized that racially offensive or sexually explicit tattoos that are visible need not be tolerated. They also advised that the key to dealing with body art and piercings is to adopt a nondiscriminatory policy and apply it evenly.

Regulating how employees wear their hair represents a potential legal minefield of discrimination complaints. Dealing with hairstyle issues requires the same evenhanded treatment as dealing with body art and piercings, according to Alexa.

“Some employers have policies that prohibit extreme hairstyles, such as hairstyles that are unnatural in color, too long, or sculpted or shaved into a design. The key here is that such policies must be applied consistently and in a non-discriminatory manner. In other words, if the policy prohibits dreadlocks and corn-rows then it should also prohibit purple colored hair and Mohawks,” she explained.

Alexa pointed out that dress code issues have evolved far beyond whether a woman’s skirt is too short or a man is wearing too much jewelry. These days, employers’ dress codes must deal with state laws (such as those in New Jersey) that prohibit discrimination according to gender identification. Other issues that must be considered include sincerely held religious beliefs.

“Employers with a dress code or appearance policies must allow employees with a sincerely held religious belief to incorporate religious practices into dress and appearance, provided that doing so does not create an undue hardship on the employer. Examples might include permitting a Sikh to wear a beard, allowing a Muslim woman to wear a hijab, or allowing an Orthodox Jewish man wearing a yarmulke,” Alexa stated.

To read the full article, please visit IE3.

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