In February 2015, Muslim teenager Samantha Elauf argued before the U.S. Supreme Court that clothing retailer Abercrombie & Fitch refused to hire her because of her head scarf. While Abercrombie had paid $71,000 in 2013 to two plaintiffs in similar cases, they argue that they didn’t know Elauf wore the scarf for religious reasons. Whether because of this case or not, Abercrombie had ended its appearance and sense of style hiring and “look policy” dress code by April 2015. So what can Abercrombie teach you about your company’s dress code?
Your Company Needs a Clear and Detailed Dress Code
Many companies need a standard dress code to maintain their brand image or comply with sanitation or safety guidelines. With thousands of world religions, though, most companies cannot know if an employee’s head covering, jewelry, body art or apparel has religious ties. Employers are also not yet required to ask if employees need religious accommodations.
That’s why employers are encouraged to be as clear as possible in regards to which types of clothing, hats, head coverings, jewelry, piercings and tattoos are allowed. The dress code should also outline a detailed dress code policy for employees in every position, particularly if it changes between positions in the company.
Likewise, employees can be open about any apparel that is worn for religious reasons. Open communication allows employers to respect an employee’s beliefs and make accommodations while maintaining the dress code.
How to Correct Dress Code Violations
When addressing dress code violations, companies can maintain an employee’s dignity. For starters, they should confront an employee in private. If the employee says the violation is because of religious reasons, the employer can start a discussion and possible change the dress code to accommodate the employee. Disciplinary action should never occur until after communication is initiated.
Most employers carry liability insurance, but they should still learn from Abercrombie & Fitch. The dress code should be detailed, in writing and taken seriously. If you need a religious apparel exemption to your company’s dress code, talk to your HR manager or supervisor as soon as possible.