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Addressing Dress Codes: Can You Be Disciplined for Breaking a Newly Implemented Rule?

When you accept a job you are obligated to abide by the company’s policies and procedures, including their rules related to employee appearance. However, what happens when your employer institutes a new rule after you are employed and that rule requires you to drastically change your appearance?

It is possible for an employer to grandfather in new rules and regulations. For instance, if a company decides tattoos are in violation of their dress code, but a current employee has tattoos, the rule could not apply to him or her or anyone else hired before the date the new policy went into action. Unfortunately, because this can cause a great deal of strife between co-workers, grandfathering is rare in situations like this.

Can You Make an Easy Change?

If you like your job and the requested change is easy and is truly an appearance issue only, you are better off just accepting the rule. If your wild hair color is now off-limits for your employer, simply cover the wild color with a wig or hat during work hours, or dye your hair an accepted color. Obviously, if the appearance issue is not so easily changed, such as the case with tattoos, you will have a tougher time meeting the standards of the new dress code.

There are a limited number of situations in which your employer cannot request you change your appearance to meet a dress code. If the appearance issue in question is related to your status under a protected class, your employer cannot request a change. For instance, if you look a certain way because of your religion, national origin, or a disability, your employer cannot request a change.

Likewise, if you believe the change in the rules was made to target you specifically. If you filed a grievance or requested leave, and the change in dress code appears to be an act of retaliation, it is possible to take legal action as long as you can prove your case.

In many cases, you will have no choice but to adhere to the dress code of your employer, even if it means changing something that was previously accepted in the workplace. If you have a decent relationship with your employer, discuss the issue and see if they are willing to offer flexibility.

If you believe your employer is changing the rules to harass you or force you out of the company, or your work environment is hostile and you are unable to perform your job duties for any reason, you have a right to take legal action. If you have questions about the rules and regulations at your company, contact us as soon as possible.


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