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Dress Codes and Appearance Policies: Challenges Under Federal Legislation, Part 3 Title VII, the Americans With Disabilities Act, and the National Labor Relations Act

Mitchell, Michael S. JD, LLM; Koen, Clifford M. Jr JD; Darden, Stephen M. JD

doi: 10.1097/HCM.0000000000000007

As more and more individuals express themselves with tattoos and body piercings and push the envelope on what is deemed appropriate in the workplace, employers have an increased need for creation and enforcement of reasonable dress codes and appearance policies. As with any employment policy or practice, an appearance policy must be implemented and enforced without regard to an individual’s race, color, sex, national origin, religion, disability, age, or any other protected status. A policy governing dress and appearance based on the business needs of an employer that is applied fairly and consistently and does not have a disproportionate effect on any protected class will generally be upheld if challenged in court. By examining some of the more common legal challenges to dress codes and how courts have resolved the disputes, health care managers can avoid many potential problems. This article, the third part of a 3-part examination of dress codes and appearance policies, focuses on the issues of race and national origin under the Civil Rights Act, disability under the Americans With Disabilities Act, and employees’ rights to engage in concerted activities under the National Labor Relations Act. Pertinent court cases that provide guidance for employers are addressed.

Author Affiliations: Fisher & Phillips, LLP, New Orleans, Louisiana (Mr Mitchell); Department of Management and Marketing, East Tennessee State University, Johnson City (Mr Koen); Hunter, Smith & Davis, LLP, Johnson City, Tennessee (Mr Darden).

The authors have no conflicts of interest.

Correspondence: Clifford M. Koen Jr, JD, Department of Management and Marketing, East Tennessee State University, Johnson City, TN 37614-1709 (

© 2014 Wolters Kluwer Health | Lippincott Williams & Wilkins