Most people have experience with an employee uniform or dress code policy (mine is “business casual”). There are often very good reasons to have employees look or dress a certain way. It can assist with productivity, promote professionalism and branding, and ensure uniformity. As such, employees’ attire/appearance can be a legitimate concern for employers. However, to the extent that a policy has no rational connection to a business need or unduly infringes on an employee’s self expression, it may be successfully challenged by unions.
While employers may believe that they have a broad right to regulate what employees wear in the workplace, this is not the case. The question of what requirements an employer can impose on an employee’s appearance can actually be quite complex because the imposition of dress codes create a tension between an employee’s right to look the way they want and the employer’s business interest in regulating appearances. Unless an employer can provide an objective explanation of why the dress code is necessary, arbitrators typically find in favour of employees’ interests in self-expression.
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