Are we allowed to tell women they can’t wear pants at work?

Q. I am an HR director for a traditional, conservative company and have run into a new issue. When onboarding employees, I always explain our preferred dress code: we prefer women to wear skirts and dresses with pantyhose to work because many of our senior partners are old-fashioned. A new female employee said she would prefer to wear pants. Can we require her to wear a skirt instead?

A. California law actually addresses this. According to Section 12947.5 of the California Fair Employment and Housing Act, “it shall be an unlawful employment practice for an employer to refuse to permit an employee to wear pants on account of the sex of the employee.” In other words, a female employee should not be prohibited from wearing pants because she is a woman.

The law provides a few exceptions to this standard. An employer can require an employee in “a particular occupation to wear a uniform.” An employee can also be required to wear “a costume while that employee is portraying a specific character or dramatic role.”

An employer that demonstrates good cause and is given an exemption from the Fair Employment and Housing Council need not comply with the “right to wear pants” law.