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What counts as dress code gender discrimination for women?

Over the years, office dress codes have become more casual and the workforce has grown to encompass an even amount of both men and women. However, some businesses may still enforce different dress code standards for women than men.

If you believe your employer is enforcing a dress code that is discriminatory towards women, read on to learn about whether you may be able to take action.

Does the law allow for male/female dress code discrepancies?

Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act made it unlawful for employers to discriminate against employees or applicants due to their race, color, religion, sex or national origin. However, companies can still enforce policies that require employees to wear attire deemed suitable for the business’ image, even if what is suitable for men is different than what is suitable for women.

That means a company’s brand image could require that female employees wear makeup, tights and a skirt, while men wear neck-ties, blazers and button-up shirts.

However, lawsuits have been made against employers that impose heavier requirements on one gender than the other or require that employees dress in sexually provocative ways.

What are the exceptions to Title VII?

But what about companies like, Hooter’s, who enforce a dress code that sexualizes employees in order to attract clients?

Legally, businesses may design their dress code to their preference as long as it adheres to one of the following conditions:

  • Avoids discrimination
  • Allows for reasonable accommodation
  • Involves a bona fide occupational qualification reasonably necessary to the regular operation of the business

In the case of Hooters, hiring only women as baristas and imposing a skimpy dress code is a bona fide occupational qualification necessary for the restaurant’s operation of business.

Reasonable accommodations, on the other hand, may include an employer allowing an employee to wear flats instead of high heels if the shoes are painful to wear.

Should I take action against my employer?

If you believe your employer has discriminated against you or refused to provide reasonable dress code accommodations, contact an attorney to discuss the situation. An employment law attorney can assess your employer's policy, determine whether it violates the law and explain your legal options.

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