Question of the Month: Employee Trying to Make Our Workplace More Colorful
Employee Trying to Make Our Workplace More Colorful.
Question: We have a staff member who has dyed her hair bright blue, purple, red, yellow (up to and including her eyebrows). How acceptable is this in the work place?
Response: Whether or not “rainbow-colored” hair and eyebrows are acceptable in the workplace is generally a matter of individual employer preference. For some more casual employers, different-colored dyed hair may not be an issue, particularly if employees do not interface with the public at large and/or if it is otherwise not a distraction. Other employers, however, may not find such styles to be compatible with, or suitable for, their professional image. Employers generally have the right to establish reasonable grooming and dress codes for employees, including reasonable rules on hairstyles, though nothing in the dress code should impose a greater burden on a protected class, such as a particular race, gender, etc. And while there is nothing expressly prohibiting an employer from banning outlandish hair coloring in particular, keep in mind that some employees wear or style their hair a certain way for religious reasons. Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, employers are required to accommodate the sincerely held religious beliefs and practices of employees (including allowing shaved heads or long hair or changing grooming requirements, etc.), unless doing so would impose an undue hardship on the employer.
If the employer wishes to address employees’ or applicants’ hair to be consistent with a company policy that requires employees to maintain a professional, neat, clean or similar appearance, the best practice is typically to provide more general guidelines in the policy, which gives the employer greater flexibility, rather than precluding a particular hair style or color. In other words, in this situation, we are not aware of any reason the employer could not simply inform the staff member of its standards with regard to professionalism and expectations when it comes to appearance and presentation of oneself, and that her hair and eyebrow color in its present state does not comport with the employer’s expectations. In either case, the employer should address professionalism, appearance, and dress code issues, if any, in its Employee Handbook.
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