Legal Ramblings

How To Properly Implement a Dress Code Policy

Some businesses implement dress codes to ensure employees dress appropriately at work. The intention is to do what’s best for the business, and to create a positive image. But a person’s style of dress is often personal, and influenced by things such as religious and cultural beliefs.

An employer must consider the possible legal ramifications of implementing a workplace dress code. How far can a company go when it comes to telling employees how to dress? Legally, a dress code must not cross over into the realm of harassment or discrimination.

Discussing the dress code with employees beforehand is possibly a wise decision. That give you a chance to get feedback, and makes employees a part of the process. This can help you spot potential legal pitfalls before they become an issue.

To properly implement a dress code, you must make sure the dress code is legal. A dress code should….

1. Avoid Religious Discrimination

It’s common for people to wear certain items based on the rules and customs of their religion. For example, a religion might require followers to wear a head covering in public at all times. Creating a dress code that prohibits wearing a head covering could possibly infringe upon a person’s religious freedom.

Make sure the dress code explains how an employee can request an exemption based on religious grounds. Also, make sure the dress code explains in detail the reason for the prohibition. If there’s a legitimate business reason for prohibiting the garment, then it’s possible to avoid a claim of discrimination.

Legally, it’s in your best interest to carefully review any request for a dress code exemption. Try to reach a compromise if possible.

You’re not legally bound to allow any type of clothing just because it’s considered part of an employee’s religion. This is especially true if the clothing is a safety hazard, and poses a threat to employees. If you want a really good overview from the EEOC on religious dress, here is a good resource.

2. Avoid Discrimination Based on National Origin

An employee can possibly claim national origin discrimination. This claim is a possibility when a dress code prohibits wearing an item of clothing associated with a specific culture. But the same dress code doesn’t prohibit similar types of clothing.

For example, a business dress code might prohibit employees from wearing clothing that exhibits foreign flags. But the dress code allows clothing that exhibits the domestic flag. This can trigger a claim of discrimination based on national origin.

3. Avoid Harassment and Discrimination Based on Sex or Gender

Differences in dress codes for men and women are acceptable within reason. It’s common for men and women to have different dress and grooming practices. But it’s illegal for a dress code to result in a situation that gives one sex an advantage over the other.

Take for example a job that requires a lot of walking and heavy lifting – such as in a warehouse. Requiring women to wear dresses and high heels would put them at a disadvantage against men wearing jeans and flat shoes. The dress code might even discourage women from applying for employment, but men would not be discouraged.

It’s also important to equally enforce the dress code. If women are reprimanded for not following the dress code, men that don’t follow the dress code should be reprimanded as well. Targeting one group over the other can possibly lead to claims of sexual harassment.

4. Avoid Discrimination Based on Disability

Disability-based discrimination is often overlooked when creating dress codes. There are situations in which an employee’s disability prohibits them from complying with a dress code.

Employers should take disabled employees into consideration when creating dress codes. If a disabled employee is unable to comply with the dress code, provide instructions on how they can request an exemption.

It’s best to reach a compromise when possible. The only exception is if a compromise would endanger other employees.

The Possible Legal Pitfalls of a Dress Code

It’s important to carefully review your business dress code before implementation. As you can see, there are several legal pitfalls that can unintentionally result. And with so many potential legal issues, you may wonder if any dress code is legal.

If you have doubts about implementing a dress code, make sure there’s a solid logical reason for every item in the code. That’s the best way to make sure the dress code can withstand legal claims against it. Of course, if you ultimately need to discipline an employee for breaking your dress code there is a proper way to go about that.

Explain the dress code to employees. Make sure they understand the reasoning behind the dress code’s requirements. It’s also wise to stress that employees can request exemptions based on religious beliefs or issues involving disabilities.

As an employer, understand that you must consider all requests for dress code exemptions. Failure to do so could land you in legal hot water. You must also make it clear that you’re willing to compromise, unless compromising creates a dangerous environment.

If you’re unsure about your business dress code, it’s best to seek legal advice. You just might have a dress code policy that crosses over into illegal territory. It’s best to consult an attorney before a problem arises.

Legal Ramblings

The Employers Responsibilities for “Reasonable Accommodation”

Employers have various responsibilities, some imposed by internal work laws and others by Federal and state laws. The American Disabilities Act, commonly known as ADA, is one of the Federal laws that employers have to pay attention to keenly. As an employer, most of your employees are drawn from diverse abilities; therefore, persons with disabilities probably form part of your workforce. Unlike everybody else, persons with disabilities have special needs; therefore, the employer must accord them with reasonable accommodation.  When an employee asks for a “reasonable accommodation” you need to know what to do.

In my line of duty as an attorney, I have had a chance to advise clients on the ADA. The common issues that I have always had to address are:

How to determine whether an employee has an ADA disability
As humans, there are several major life activities that any able person can perform with ease. Some of these major life activities include eating, walking, performing manual tasks, self-care, standing, and major bodily functions, among many others. While such activities are easily doable for someone with no disability, the case is different for those who have a disability. Therefore when determining whether an employee has an ADA disability, an employer has to pay attention to whether even after using mitigating measures, such a person is still substantially limited in the performance of activities like walking, self-care, working etc.

What are mitigating measures?
An amputee might choose to use a prosthetic foot to help them move around. In the same regard, someone with a hearing impairment can use implantable hearing devices to help them hear. These are just some of the things recognized by the ADA as those that can lessen the effects of a disability.

What is a substantial limitation?
Substantial limitation, according to the ADA, is whereby an employee’s ability to perform major life functions is limited, especially when compared with the ability of the general population. Even persons suffering from depression have been classified as those who can qualify as substantially limited hence qualifying for an accommodation under the ADA.

Therefore for an employer to determine whether an employee has an ADA disability, such an employee must still have substantial limits when performing major life activities even after when using mitigating measures. Remember that the ADA does not give a list of those impairments either mental or bodily that qualify as disabilities with substantial limitation. As an employer, you are under an obligation to consider the effects a disability has on an employee. Therefore even mental conditions that inhibit the effort an employee can put into their work can be considered as a disability deserving of accommodation under the ADA.

What is reasonable accommodation according to the ADA?
The ADA has covered various employment practices by considering them as unlawful because they don’t offer reasonable accommodation to people with disabilities. Almost every employment activity is covered under the ADA ranging from recruitment, payment, job assignments etc. It is therefore unlawful under the ADA to discriminate against someone with a disability right from recruitment. Employees have the right to demand their rights under the ADA. As an employer, you are under a duty to undertake various procedures to determine the disability and proceed to accord the employee the requested accommodation or dismiss the request dependent on the finding.

The responsibility to provide reasonable accommodation is only applicable where the employee has the actual disability they claim to suffer from. Employers can ask employees to furnish them with any documentation that shows the existence of the disability. Therefore when an employee alleges that they have a disability, their allegations don’t form an authority but rather a basis for further determination.

Examples of reasonable accommodation
When facing accommodation requests even during the determination of the existence of the disability; the due diligence you can conduct as an employer is to find out whether you have the capability of providing the requested reasonable accommodation. Also, consider the effects that such accommodation will have on your business.

Some of the issues that my clients always battle with are what can be considered as a reasonable accommodation. Here are some of the types of accommodations you can undertake to ensure that you comply with the ADA.

 Allow flexibility
An employee battling PTSD or depression might have difficulty sleeping at night despite using the necessary prescriptions. Such an employee might request for flexible working hours hence not ending up as strenuous on their end. Additionally, it could be fair where possible to let the employee undertake their duties remotely.

 Accord reserved parking
Due to the nature of the disability, the employee might require a special parking spot. An employee who is an amputee, for example, will require some special treatment when it comes to parking space.

 Make the work environment more accessible
Providing reasonable accessibility in the work environment for an employee on a wheelchair is one of the ways through which your work environment can be accommodative to all people regardless of their bodily shortcomings.

 Make changes to the job tasks
Due to a disability, an employee who could comfortably perform heavy tasks in the past might have to take on lighter duties. Paying attention to the current needs of the employees and consulting with disability experts can help you come up with job tasks that the employees seeking accommodation can comfortably handle.

One piece of advice that I have always shared with my clients is never to ignore any legal responsibilities because the subsequent repercussions can be heavy on the business. Put simply, don’t ever think of an employee requesting a reasonable accommodation as someone who is requesting “vacation.”  That is a totally separate topic in and of itself.

Legal consultation is, therefore, an essential service for anyone looking to be compliant with employment laws and especially the ADA. For a much more detailed guide, straight from the horse’s mouth (the EEOC), you can take a look at this page:

Legal Ramblings

How To Legally Discipline An Employee Without Getting Into Hot Water

Running a business requires some level of discipline from both the employer and the employees. A workplace with highly disciplined personnel provides the most conducive work environment for everyone associated with a business. Among the relationships regulated by statute is the employer-employee relationship, the regulating statutes being employment laws.

Many states have in place employment laws applicable to their residents; therefore, employers need to establish laws applicable to businesses at the state and federal levels. The constant worry that most employers subsequently have is how to legally discipline an employee without getting into hot water?

One fact about an employer taking disciplinary action against an employee is that effecting discipline on an employee is not illegal unless the disciplinary measure employed violates employment laws’ provisions.

Tips on how to legally discipline an employee

1. Seek knowledge on the status of employment laws on disciplining employees
The good news about the employee disciplinary measures is that employers have the freedom of formulating rules applicable to their business. While doing so, there are statutes that employers must comply with or risk repercussions. For example, older employees fall in the protected class, guarded against discrimination on the grounds of age.

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 outlaws any form of discrimination when employing or during the employment duration of older employees. Therefore when an employer is taking disciplinary action against an older employee, it is important to ensure that any motive that would point towards discrimination is addressed internally before any information spills out.

The Age Discrimination Act of 1975 gives provisions under section 6103(b) of actions that count as nonviolative, which, if duly followed by an employee, can guard against lawsuits arising from disciplinary measures. Understanding most employment laws require legal knowledge; therefore, an employer who seeks to understand the legality of the disciplinary measures used within their business should consult with an employment attorney for proper interpretation of the law.

2. Ensure internal rules include clauses on termination of the contract
States like Texas are employment at will states. However, to retain the best talent in a business, an employer might consider hiring some employees on a contractual basis with specific clauses governing the employment relationship. While an employer can hire and fire at will, breach of contract is a ground for instituting an employment dispute citing wrongful termination.

A good attorney can help draft an employment contract factoring in instances that warrant termination even if an employee is employed on special contract terms. Additionally, internal business laws constitute the evidence employers can rely on if an aggrieved employee decides to sue. Therefore employers need to ensure that the internal business laws have a clause on termination at will.

Before entering into an employment relationship, the internal business laws are some of the documents employees get to sign to prove they have the knowledge and are agreeable to the terms of employment engagement. Hence, they can’t claim a lack of knowledge later on. For a business to have laws clear laws that are properly worded, talk to an employment law attorney.

3. List the dos and don’ts in the business
Employers need to have definite dos and don’ts for an employer-employee relationship. Some employers use an employee handbook with a clear set of dos and don’ts within the business environment or during business transactions. Other employers prefer online platforms like an employee portal where every employee can access all work environment rules.

Some of the rules in the handbook or portal can include the following:

 Work attire
Discrimination based on dress code is not new; hence, every employer must avoid any discriminatory provisions on dress code. Some religions require their faithful to adorn specific attires at all times. Therefore it is crucial that the rules on work attire do not appear as discriminative to persons of a particular religion or background.

Most importantly, employers need to be clear on work attire expectations by stating what employees are expected to wear. If you want to dive deeper into the whole idea of “dress code” SHRM has a good overview here. We also delve much deeper into this here.

 Regulate employee behavior
The background of an employee might dictate behavior. Therefore, what might be deemed common etiquette might be foreign to an employee, creating awkward or offensive situations. Therefore employers have to regulate relationships between employer-employee, employee-employee, employee-client, employee-competitor, among many others.

Also, with technology having taken over relationships, businesses, etc., most people are mobile phone addicts. When employees spend most of the business hours browsing the internet, the business ends up being at a loss. The modern-day challenge of mobile phone addiction, even at the workplace, must be addressed.

Among the intentions of running a business is to help attain life goals, and such goals can’t be realized with a bunch of underperforming employees. Employers need to set either individual or group targets for their employees.

An employer can adopt the weekly, monthly, or quarterly target dependent on preference or the business structure. After that, conduct evaluations after lapse of each set timeline to ascertain whether the targets have been met and proceed to forge the way forward for those not met.

 Unbecoming conduct in the workplace
Drunkenness, violence, and theft are among gross misconduct behavior. As an employer, entertaining such acts can result in a bad business image. Immediate termination of employees engaging in unbecoming conduct is often acceptable even without undertaking disciplinary measures.

4. Seal every window for favoritism
Favoritism at the workplace is a possible reason for legal action. Managers are known for picking sides when effecting disciplinary measures. An aggrieved employee might take offense and take legal action against your business.

A managerial team forms a crucial part of business image, and disciplinary measures used are done on behalf of the employer pursuant to the employment relationship. While some managers are professionally trained, there are those who have grown on the job and might lack some important guidelines on proper management and, in particular effecting disciplinary measures.

Therefore an employer has an obligation to ensure the managerial team is not jeopardizing the business. Some tips employers can secure their business include:

 Hold continuous training sessions for all managers while paying attention to business disciplinary measures
 With the availability of online platforms, create a managerial portal where managers can discuss disciplinary measures and subsequently effect reviews for those that appear too lenient or strict.
 Listen to employees. Conflicts between the management and the sub-ordinates are not new, but when employees speak out about favoritism, listen. Such information might help in guarding a business against unnecessary lawsuits.
 Subject managers to disciplinary action. A manager is also an employee and can equally face disciplinary action. Therefore if a manager violates the set disciplinary guidelines, ensure they also face disciplinary action.

5. Decide on the most appropriate disciplinary measures for the business
There are various disciplinary measures employers can undertake. Employment disciplinary actions are meant to realize a result beneficial to both parties and not necessarily administer punishment. Notably, some disciplinary measures might have a financial liability on the business; therefore, when deciding the best suited disciplinary action, employers need to thoroughly consider the impact it has on the business and whether the result is worthwhile. As an employer, you can choose to use:

 The rehabilitative approach. Employees are valuable business parties; therefore, employers might want to rehabilitate them through training aimed at helping the subject employees work on their shortcomings.
 Warning and suspension, among many others.

6. Ensure adherence to set rules
With a managerial portal accessible to all the managers. As an employer, you should ensure your management team adheres to the discipline regulations and is held accountable if in violation.

If you can follow the above ideas, and most importantly, if you can be consistent in your approach to employee expectations and discipline, you will be well on your way to staying out of “hot water” when it comes to disciplining your employees. However, if you deviate from your own rules, or apply them haphazardly, you will find yourself in a world of trouble and the potential of a lawsuit.

Until next time, those are my thoughts…


Legal Ramblings

Start a Law Blog…That’s What My Son Told Me To Do

I guess now I can be a cool kid…

Longtime lawyer, technologically impaired, closer to 60 than 30….

Interesting the things I could say to describe myself. My name is John and I’ve been practicing law for longer than you’ve likely been alive. I have a wife, two grown kids, a thriving legal practice. But guess what? I’m bored to tears. The pandemic that we are currently in has turned our whole world upside down, me included.

I was speaking to my son about the boredom that has set in for me…. Endless days in the house, can’t go outside much (after all I’m in the “risky” category” due to my age and health). The worst part? I don’t really have any hobbies or interest in any hobbies. My son suggested that I start a blog discussing the law (which is something I love) and use it as an outlet to say all the things I can’t really say to partners or clients.

Since I’ve been an employment attorney for most of my adult life (save for that quick stint into personal injury….oops) I think I will write about those things that I know about. My goal here, is to share some general wisdom about some key aspects of law as it relates to employers, employees, and how to navigate this tricky employment world that we live in. After I cover some general topics, my goal, my real intention with this blog, is going to be to give you insight into the things lurking in the deep dark crevices of my brain. Those things in employment law that are “hush hush.” I’ll save those juicy details for down the road but let’s just say, I’ve always wanted to be a John Grisham type and I have the background of stories to give me inspiration.

So off we go…

I’ll start by writing some general informational stuff about employment law, discrimination, workplace harassment, diversity, and wage and hour issues. I’ll also cover a plethora of Human Resources topics since most of my time with “clients” are spent with the HR Team.

Let’s hope I don’t bore you to tears…but….I guess I’m not too concerned since my whole goal here is to just kill some boredom of my own!!

Finally, I think it’s smart if I just use my first name during this whole blog. I still have an active practice and if I finally get around to writing those “John Grisham” style stories from my past, I will want to remain anonymous. I’ll also have to change those names as well I guess.

I hope you’ll join me in this adventure!


p.s. I guess since I’m a lawyer I should also add that this is truly my “personal” blog and is not associated with my own law firm or any other law firm. These are my opinions and you should contact your own attorney before acting on any writings of this blog. Yes, I’m an attorney but I’m not YOUR attorney and you should always seek legal advice before taking any other actions in your business (especially from reading something on the internet).