Valuing Worker Authenticity

52 Pages Posted: 20 Sep 2019 Last revised: 13 Feb 2024

See all articles by Dallan Flake

Dallan Flake

Gonzaga University - School of Law

Date Written: February 3, 2024


Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects workers from discrimination because of their race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. Controversially, courts do not typically extend this protection to individual expression tied to a protected trait, such as a Black employee who wears their hair in dreadlocks or a Latino employee who speaks Spanish on the job. Judicial unwillingness to protect employee self-expression tied to a protected trait causes employees who identify with marginalized groups to suppress their identities to conform with mainstream culture—often at tremendous cost to themselves and the organizations they work for.

This Article argues that regardless of how courts interpret Title VII, employers generally should encourage employees to express their authentic selves at work. This is because we now live in an age when many employees, especially Millennials and Generation Z, are no longer content to check their personal lives at the workplace door; instead, they expect to bring their whole, authentic selves to work. Research confirms that employees who are free to display their authentic selves are better engaged, harder working, more satisfied, and less likely to quit—outcomes that boost productivity and, ultimately, profitability. Given these known benefits, employers would be wise to embrace, not suppress, worker authenticity in most instances.

Of course, worker authenticity cannot go unchecked. Self-expression may be counterproductive or even dangerous in some instances. In determining the reasonable limits of worker self-expression, employers should look to the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Groff v. DeJoy for guidance. There, the Court held that employers must accommodate employees with religious conflicts unless doing so would result in “substantial increased costs” to their business. Just as this test allows employers to ascertain the proper limits to religious expression in the workplace, so too can it help them determine the appropriate scope of worker authenticity. Encouraging employees to express their authentic selves within Groff’s parameters will benefit employees and employers alike, while safeguarding workplaces from potential abuses that could occur if self-expression goes unchecked.

Keywords: Title VII, Civil Rights Act, Authenticity, Whole-Self Employment, Employee Expression

Suggested Citation

Flake, Dallan, Valuing Worker Authenticity (February 3, 2024). Available at SSRN: or

Dallan Flake (Contact Author)

Gonzaga University - School of Law ( email )

721 N. Cincinnati Street
Spokane, WA 99220-3528
United States

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