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Is Appearance Discrimination in the Workplace Illegal?


These days, a lot of employers make hiring decisions partly based on the physical look of a candidate. If you are preparing for a job interview, you should appear at the interview well-groomed and in attire appropriate for the kind of position you have applied for. Although companies can make your appearance a factor in making hiring decisions, they cannot make illegal discriminatory employment decisions. Employees who suffer discrimination at work should contact an employment attorney as soon as possible to understand their rights and legal options.

Is Discrimination Based on Look Lawful?

Generally, employers can make employment decisions based on the look of a candidate. But they cannot make hiring decisions based on the protected status of an applicant involving their look such as color, sex, and race. Employers who refuse to hire a candidate because of their eye color, height, and choices of clothing, such characteristics do not have protection from the law. Anti-discrimination laws in the country prohibit discrimination based on the national origin, pregnancy, age, color, race, gender, disability, religion, sexual orientation, and other characteristics of a candidate. But sometimes, appearance discrimination can be related to illegal discrimination against a job candidate based on a protected characteristic.

As long as employers treat everyone in the workplace equally, they can hire employees based on their looks. For instance, they can require job candidates to wear a uniform, stay in shape, as well as keep their nails clean and short. But they cannot impose such requirements on different employee categories. In addition, employers must not offer additional restrictions to those who have protected characteristics that make it more difficult to meet the requirements.

When Can Appearance Discrimination Become Unlawful?

Appearance discrimination can be unlawful if it’s associated with a protected characteristic. For instance, a company with a policy that forbids workers from wearing any kind of hair covering can be illegal discrimination against those who have some religion. Examples of other kinds of illegal appearance discrimination include an employee’s race or skin color, age, disability, gender identity, or sexual orientation.

Some employers include appearance standards in their workplace policies. Sometimes, these policies can be discriminatory if they impact just a particular gender. For instance, a company that requires female workers to maintain a specific weight while not imposing the same requirements on male employees can face a discrimination complaint.

If you have been discriminated against at work based on your looks and it was associated with your protected status, you may be able to file a discrimination charge against your employer. A skilled employment attorney can review your case and explain the merits of your case.