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Women: Is my boss allowed to dictate the terms of my appearance?

A lawsuit that has been making headlines recently concerns the so-called “bikini baristas”—coffee shop workers who are required to dress in bikinis on the job. The baristas contend that it is illegal to be required to wear clothing that suggests to customers that they are sexually available.

The court has yet to submit a final ruling in this case. However, the lawsuit raises the question: what say does an employer have in their employees’ appearance? Here is what the law has to say on certain issues concerning the appearance of female workers:

Can an employer only hire thin employees?

An employer may impose weight limits on their staff—provided that these apply to both male and female employees equally. It would be unlawful to require female employees to maintain a slim figure while allowing heavier male employees.

While it would constitute pregnancy discrimination to fire a female employee for gaining weight during her pregnancy, an employer may assign a fixed amount of time within which the employee must return to her pre-pregnancy weight after childbirth.

Can my boss force me to wear risqué clothing?

If the company projects a sexy image, workers may be required to wear a revealing uniform. However, if there is no legitimate business purpose for wearing risqué clothing, but such a dress code exists, it could constitute sexual harassment.

It is worth noting that different dress codes may apply for female and male workers. However, it is illegal to enforce a dress code for only one gender.

Can my boss have a say in my hair and makeup?

If a certain aesthetic is consistent with a company’s image, it may be acceptable for an employer to enforce certain requirements pertaining to female employees’ hairstyle, makeup and nails—even if grooming requirements for male employees are far less involved.

However, if a female employee in such a case could prove that such requirements imposed greater burden on her compared to her male colleagues, she may be successful in a sex discrimination suit.

There are many laws in place to protect the rights of female workers. If you believe you are being treated unfairly in the workplace, consult with an experienced employment attorney about your options.

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