Ridout Barron


Dress codes are legal when they don't discriminate

You may resent your dress code at work. You might think that it limits your freedom of expression. You may be disgruntled that you have to buy clothes only to wear to work, cutting into your wages -- especially if you never would have bought that style of clothing otherwise. You may just be frustrated that you have to look like everyone else.

However, it's important to remember that dress codes are legal. Don't break the code, or you could be fired. You do not have a right to wear anything that you want.

Of course, there are exceptions. If your religion prohibits you from wearing what your employer is asking, accommodations may need to be made, as long as they're reasonable. If you're disabled, you may be able to change what you wear to assist with your condition.

The rule that employers have to follow is that they're not allowed to use the dress code to discriminate against certain employees. While there may be differences for men and women, they are supposed to make sure that the rules are fair to everyone. For example, if workers of a certain racial or ethnic background are told they must all dress alike, while workers of another background are told there are no rules for them, this could be viewed as discrimination.

In short, a dress code can be illegal when it is unfair. But you should not assume it's illegal just because you don't like it. If you think you have been discriminated against or fired unfairly, though, you need to know what legal options you have in Alberta.

Source: Alberta Human Rights, "Dress codes and appearance," accessed June 17, 2016

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