Avitus Group Educates California Employers on Appropriate Appearance Policy Law as California Federal Judge Certifies Class-Action Suit for Abercrombie & Fitch Employees

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Avitus Group Releases Workplace Dress Code Best Practices Guide Online; Highlights Federal Law & California FEHA Labor Code, While Addressing Dress Code Policy Content Including Tattoos, Piercings & Skirt Length

Workplace Dress Code Best Practices

This is a hot topic in California that many employers could use help with, especially following the class action lawsuit against Abercrombie & Fitch.

“This is a hot topic in California that many employers could use help with, especially following industry news of the class action lawsuit against Abercrombie & Fitch, a national retail clothing store," says Avitus Group Director of Human Resources & Risk Management Cynthia Hancock. "Generally an employer can dictate what they want from their employees while on duty from a dress code perspective, as far as what to wear, piercings, tattoos, etc., as long as the policy is not discriminatory. That is where employers can have exposure, and need to know what is considered discriminatory. Avitus Group makes sure our clients are always in compliance with federal and state laws.”

According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or EEOC, a company can set a formal or casual dress code depending on the personality of the organization. That code can apply to all employees or employees within certain job categories. However, there are exceptions and that is where most employee lawsuits stem from. That has Avitus Group, a business solutions company with offices in California, releasing an online Workplace Dress Code Best Practices Guide. The guide outlines how to keep an EEOC compliant dress code, while also meeting the requirements of California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act, or FEHA, Labor Code.

"The issue comes up when an employer is trying to present a certain business culture to the public. If the employee is on the front line with tattoos, piercings, etc. stating it was part of their religion and/or religious belief, we would enter the interactive process to determine if there are alternatives, i.e., covering them up, different position possibly, etc. looking to make a reasonable accommodation. If the employee is working in the back, away from the public and states the garb or tattoos are part of their religion, working in the back room away from the public could be seen as a reasonable accommodation," says Hancock.

According to Hancock, the longer it takes to address the situation or enter into the interactive process, the employer's argument of an “undue burden” on the company dissipates.

"Many cases have been lost because three to four months go by before entering into an interactive process and/or terminating an employee for not complying with the dress code. A recent case was lost due to an individual growing his beard after he was hired, claiming it was part of his new found religion. The employer failed to enter the interactive process and termed him after warning him on three different occasions. The employer claimed it was an undue hardship on the company and the employees were required to follow dress protocol and policy. The employee received an undisclosed amount in settlement," says Hancock.

Under the EEOC, the courts do not require an employee to prove they subscribe to a particular religious practice and/or belief, or that it needs to be generally known to the public to be valid. Nor do they want to get involved in individuals' belief systems. For these reasons, it is often difficult to prove an employee was not harmed. Very few employers win these cases. One example making headlines recently is a headscarf lawsuit involving Abercrombie & Fitch, where the company paid more than $25,000 to settle the headscarf lawsuit. Now, according to news reports, a California Federal Judge has certified a class action lawsuit for some 62,000 employees of that store.

Avitus Group serves clients nationwide through regional offices from coast to coast. The company also serves international clients through partner locations in Europe, Canada, China, England, India, Japan and Singapore. Avitus Group helps other companies simplify, strengthen and grow by handling burdensome, yet necessary administrative tasks including payroll, bookkeeping, taxes, IT, and more. When these items become Avitus Group's responsibility, the business owner can focus on what they do best.

Supporting Documents: Supreme Court of the United States, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores, Inc., No. 14-86 Argued February 25, 2015-Decided June 1, 2015

United States District Court Central District of California, Alexander Brown, et al. v. Abercrombie & Fitch Co., et al., July 16, 2015

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Dianne Parker
Avitus Group
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