You don’t have to hire applicants or put up with employees with body piercings, tattoos, wildly colored hair or other disruptive looks. Of course, there may be occasional exceptions to the rule—for example, if an applicant or employee can point to a legitimate religious requirement. But, for the most part, you are free to set and enforce grooming and dress standards for your employees.
But here’s an angle to consider when disciplining colorful employees: You must make sure you apply the rules evenhandedly. Don’t single out anyone who belongs to a protected class for special enforcement of the rules.
Recent case: Mary Whitesell, who is over age 40, worked for a Cellular One retail store as a manager. The company eventually fired her under its policy after she had accumulated enough disciplinary warnings to warrant termination.
One of the disciplinary warnings concerned her pierced nose. The company prohibited visible piercings and required employees to cover them at work. When she sued for wrongful discharge, she claimed that she had been disciplined for the uncovered pierced nose, while a younger male employee with an eyebrow piercing was not.
The company easily countered that objection. The younger man had been Whitesell’s subordinate. She was the one who had failed to enforce the rules in his case, presumably because she wanted to keep her own nose ring. The court dismissed the case. (Whitesell, et al., v. Dobson Communications, No. 2:06-CV-0319, WD PA, 2008)
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