Courts usually allow you to set grooming policies or appearance standards, particularly for employees who deal directly with customers. Just make sure you apply your rules evenhandedly across your work force. You don't want to unwittingly set requirements that place an unreasonably greater burden on one gender over the other. To make sure your appearance policy is fair, compare the time and money it will cost your male and female employees to follow it. And reject any rules based strictly on stereotypes about male and female appearance, such as women should "look feminine."
Recent case: A Nevada casino's new "image standards" required female servers to wear makeup. Bartender Darlene Jespersen refused. The casino gave her 30 days to find another job in the company, then fired her. She sued under Title VII, claiming the makeup policy equated to sex discrimination.
A federal court tossed out her case, saying the proper question to ask is whether the rule put an "unequal burden" on male and female servers. It didn't. Both sexes had grooming rules to follow. The court reasoned that male employees' more frequent haircuts would partially offset the cost of makeup that women had to wear. (Jespersen v. Harrah's Operating Company Inc., No. 03-15045, 9th Cir., 2004)
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