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Discrimination in your employer's dress code

When you started your job, your may have spent the better part of your first day signing contracts, learning about your duties and meeting your coworkers. Your new employer probably gave you a stack of booklets to review, one of which was an employee handbook. Even if your boss did not explain the dress code for your job, he or she may have made a point to direct your attention to those pages in the handbook.

Were you surprised at some of the stipulations in the book? Did you feel the policies were unbalanced or downright unfair? It is easy to shrug it off and believe that the boss can make any policies he or she wants to, but this is not always the case. When it comes to dress codes, employers may cross the line into discrimination.

How a strict dress code may violate your rights

It may not even be intentional, but your employer may have unconscious biases that leak into a dress code policy, especially if stipulations are not evenly applied. For example, an outdated dress code may require women to wear skirts and stockings but not place equal restrictions on men. This can violate laws against discrimination in the following ways:

  • Placing more of a burden on women than men
  • Fostering gender stereotypes
  • Violating the rights of those who do not identify with a specific gender
  • Ignoring the rights of those for whom wearing skirts violates their religious beliefs
  • Overlooking the needs of those with disabilities, such as someone who uses an insulin pump or has a skin condition

Gender-specific clothing is only one element of a dress code that may be discriminatory. If your employer's policy dictates how you may wear your hair or whether you can cover your head, it may discriminate against your cultural practices or religious beliefs. For example, an employer who insists that male employees be clean-shaven with short hair may unfairly target those whose religion requires them to refrain from cutting their hair.

Your Oregon employer may have certain dress code rules in place due to safety regulations or other issues, but none of these policies should single out one group of people. In fact, in many cases, a dress code that is too stringent or imposes too many rules may easily cross the line into discrimination, even if your employer does not intend it. It is wise for you to know your rights and to be ready to stand up for yourself if your employer violates those rights.

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