Can Employers Discriminate Against Physical Appearance?

Emphasis on one’s physical appearance is very common in society today. Employers often make employment decisions based on the interviewee’s physical appearance. When getting ready for an interview, job search counselors advise candidates on proper grooming and attire. However, employers may be liable if their employment decisions or workplace policies regarding expectations for physical appearance are discriminatory.  

Generally, employers are not banned from making hiring decisions based on a candidate’s physical appearance. However, employers cannot make hiring decisions based on appearance that is discriminatory toward categories protected by law; appearance based on height, eye color, and clothing choices are not protected by law. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and federal civil rights laws only protect employers from discriminating based on skin color. Other laws protect discrimination based on one’s race, gender, nationality, age, religion, pregnancy, disability, veteran status, sexual orientation, and marital status.

When is Appearance-Based Discrimination Illegal?

Employers risk exposure to liability when appearance discrimination is linked to a protected class included in anti-discrimination laws. Employers should be careful not to implement policies regarding hair grooming, as this characteristic may be discriminatory toward members of certain religions or racial backgrounds.

New Jersey Law

New Jersey recently passed the Create a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair (CROWN) Act, which includes hairstyles as a protected class and prohibits discrimination based on hairstyle that is historically associated with a race. Protective hairstyles include braids, locks, and twists. The Act is designed to amend the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination’s existing prohibition of race discrimination to include hairstyle. Examples include prohibiting discrimination based on dreadlocks or Afro hairstyles that are closely associated with the African American race. 

Other Examples of Appearance-Based Discrimination

When employers impose certain appearance standards, it may be considered gender biased and discriminatorily affect a particular gender. Prohibiting ponytails for only male employees may be viewed as gender discrimination. Also, when employers require women to not gain weight or maintain a certain figure, this may be viewed as discriminatory against women who are pregnant or are returning to work after maternity leave. 

Employers who create polices requiring employees to maintain a certain appearance with regard to their physique can also be liable for creating a hostile work environment. Other examples include employers who institute policies prohibiting uncut hair or the covering of one’s hair; this is may result in discrimination against those from the Sikh and Islamic religions. Even asking employees to dye their gray hair can be considered age discrimination.

South Jersey Employment Lawyers at The Law Offices of Leo B. Dubler, III, LLC Advocate for Employees Suffering from Workplace Discrimination

If you were subjected to workplace harassment or discrimination based on your physical appearance or were required to maintain hair or dress against your racial or religious customs, contact a South Jersey employment lawyer at The Law Offices of Leo B. Dubler, III, LLC right away. We will review your case and obtain the justice you deserve. For a free consultation, please contact us online or call us at 856-235-7075. Located in Atlantic City and Mount Laurel, New Jersey, we provide legal services to residents throughout South Jersey, including Cherry Hill, Burlington County, and Camden County.