Hi everyone! As some of you know, I recently started volunteering as a legislative fellow for a Maryland legislator. My assignment currently is to investigate whether employees in Maryland are unfairly burdened by employer dress and grooming codes. I am hoping that you know of or can help me find some examples of Maryland employer standards that are both inappropriate and not covered under current law.
Currently, federal and state discrimination laws require employers to institute standards without unnecessarily burdening protected classes, i.e. race or religion or sexual orientation or disability. Employers are able to have some differences in standards for men and women, but the standards can't be overly burdensome for one sex over the other. In spite of the non-discrimination laws, we still see poorly executed employer dress standards. For example, this Hooters waitress was asked to dye her hair because according to the employer, black women shouldn't have blond hair, even though other waitresses were able to dye their hair unnatural colors, and Deadspin recently ran a story including leaked Ravens cheerleader standards which required fair-skinned women to be spray tanned. These standards are ostensibly prohibited, and even though unfair standards still occur, we are not concerned about finding a legislative fix for these since there are already potential remedies to address them, including lawsuits and employer/employee education.
Our potential legislation concerns onerous or unreasonable dress codes that are not covered by current discrimination law. For example, professional cheerleaders are required to wear makeup. Is it fair to require cheerleaders to wear makeup? Is wearing makeup an essential function of being a cheerleader? Can one not lead cheers without makeup? I've seen other cases in which female casino workers are required to wear makeup. Why is makeup necessary to serve drinks or deal cards?
To me (not necessarily the thinking of the legislator I'm working for), asking any employee to arrange their hair or face in any particular way is overly intrusive. Why should an employer have control over something so personal? There is no objective standard for what constitutes "professional" or "appropriate," therefore it is entirely up to the employer's subjective opinion. Obviously, the response to my concerns is that an employee may get a job elsewhere, but truthfully, employees are at a power deficit when it comes to picking and choosing jobs.
The legislator is not seeking to outlaw dress codes or anything like that. Right now, we are thinking the appropriate way to go would be to shift some of the burden for justifying certain dress codes onto the employer. If a professional cheerleading organization can show that indeed, makeup is an essential part of being a cheerleader, then their makeup requirements would be considered appropriate.
We are still in the exploratory phases of this project (hence this rather random post), so the bill's direction is not written in stone. In fact, we may come to the conclusion that the bill is not necessary at all.
If you have or know of good examples of the kind of dress and grooming standards I'm talking about, please let me know about them in the comments. If you are a Maryland resident and would consider testifying about this issue to the Maryland State Assembly, please indicate that too.