Tattoos, body piercings, wildly colored hair—these days it seems as if just about anything goes in the workplace. Employers that want some sense of decorum at work may feel as though insisting on a dress code marks them as dinosaurs. And that’s before they worry about whether an employee will sue when she’s told to tone down the purple hair or he has to cover the hip-hop ink on his forearm.
Rest assured, however, that you can insist on a reasonable dress and grooming code.
In fact, you can even have different standards for different positions. For example, no one expects the cleaning crew to look as polished as the frontline supervisor. Just make sure you enforce the same rules for everyone who works at the same level.
Recent case: Christy Mathis, who is black, worked as a teller supervisor for Wachovia Bank. She had a penchant for unusual hair colors, and one day she came in with hot-pink hair.
Because banking is a conservative business, Wachovia has a dress and grooming code that says employees should avoid “extremes” in dress and hairstyles. A supervisor told Mathis to lose the pink hair or she would be placed on probation. When she came back with the same hair color the following day, she was told she would be fired if she didn’t change it.
Mathis relented, but sued, alleging discriminatory treatment. She said that a white teller had been told to stop wearing excessive makeup but had not been threatened with termination if she didn’t comply.
The court dismissed the case, reasoning that a bank can hold supervisors to a higher dress code standard than subordinates. (Mathis v. Wachovia Bank, No. 07-11528, 11th Cir., 2007)
Final note: You also can have different standards for men and women. For example, you can require men to be cleanshaven and keep their hair short while still allowing women to maintain long hair. Note that your grooming standards may have to accommodate religious expression, such as Muslim prohibitions against removing facial hair.