What Do Unions Do About Appearance Codes?

23 Pages Posted: 21 Dec 2006 Last revised: 17 Sep 2015

See all articles by Michael J. Yelnosky

Michael J. Yelnosky

Roger Williams University School of Law

Date Written: 2007


In this contribution to a symposium on Makeup, Identity Performance, and Discrimination, I explore the role of labor law and the enforcement of collective bargaining agreements in limiting employer discretion to impose appearance codes that employees find objectionable.

My survey of that body of law reveals that it offers covered employees substantial protection from the imposition of appearance codes, and perhaps more protection than any other stautory or common law regulation. However, a closer inspection reveals substantial gaps in that protection. For example, a decreasing percentage of American workers are unionized. Moreover, even among those who are, because unions are majoritarian institutions, they are often not faithful agents for employees asserting positions not shared by the majority, such as, for example, the right to dress at work in a way that does not conform to gender stereotypes.

Nevertheless, on balance labor law should be a serious subject of study for those who aim to increase employee agency in appearance. Unions have a strong track record of helping employees retain some measure of workplace autonomy -- an objective consistent with resisting unduly restrictive appearance codes. The paper concludes with some examples.

Keywords: Labor Law, Employment Discrimination, Grooming and Appearance Standards

Suggested Citation

Yelnosky, Michael J., What Do Unions Do About Appearance Codes? (2007). Duke Journal of Gender Law & Policy, Vol. 14, Pg. 521, 2007, Roger Williams Univ. Legal Studies Paper No. 39, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=953018

Michael J. Yelnosky (Contact Author)

Roger Williams University School of Law ( email )

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