Dress codes, both vague and specific, can open employers up to risk of litigation. Unequal, targeted enforcement of dress codes is even worse and is by definition harassment. According to the EEOC, “A dress code must not treat some employees less favorably because of their national origin. For example, a dress code that prohibits certain kinds of ethnic dress, such as traditional African or Indian attire, but otherwise permits casual dress would treat some employees less favorably because of their national origin.”
Stephanie Hammerwold emphasizes that discussions about dress code violations should be respectful and without condescension. “Review the policy, address how the dress code violation affects business and offer some examples of appropriate dress.” Her approach, focusing on “how [it] affects the business,” has the potential to reveal unconscious bias in your approach to dress codes. Does the hairstyle or apparel in question pose a safety risk? Could it offend other workers? Could it create the wrong impression with your clients? Or is there some other reason that it bothers you and appears less than professional to your eyes?
If your dress code and enforcement policies allow employees to dress up as Star Trek characters but not to wear a simple head scarf or style their naturally, you’ve got a problem — one that may land you in court.