Can a dress code bar ethnic attire based on customer preferences?


Tony, one of your department managers, is in your office reviewing finalists for an available cashier position. He wants to hire Narinder, a South Asian man, but is afraid customers will be put off by Narinder’s Sikh turban. While your company’s dress code has never been enforced, Tony wants to know if he can update it to prohibit ethnic attire and start enforcing it before hiring Narinder. Would that be a problem?


Yes. It would be unlawful to deny Narinder the job due to notions of customer preferences about ethnic attire. That would be the same as refusing to hire Narinder because he is a Sikh. A dress code must not treat some employees less favorably because of their national origin. For example, enforcing a dress code that prohibits certain kinds of ethnic dress, such as traditional African or Indian attire, but otherwise permits casual dress would treat some employees less favorably because of their national origin. An employer may require all workers to follow a uniform dress code even if the dress code conflicts with some workers' ethnic beliefs or practices. However, if the dress code conflicts with religious practices, the employer must modify the dress code unless doing so would result in undue hardship.

Source: EEOC Guidance: Questions and Answers for Small Employers about National Origin Discrimination, reported in the CCH Employment Practices Guide, New Developments ¶5070.

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