Workplace Dress Codes and Transgender Employees

Filed under: Transgender, Workplace

Dress codes should be modified to avoid gender stereotypes and should apply consistently to all employees. Transgender employees may dress consistently in accordance with their full-time gender presentation.

If an employer has a dress code, it should modify it to avoid gender stereotypes and enforce it consistently. Requiring men to wear suits and women to wear skirts or dresses, while legal, is based on gender stereotypes. Alternatively, codes that require attire professionally appropriate to the office or unit in which an employee works are gender-neutral. Employers can legally implement gender-specific dress codes as long as they are not arbitrarily enforced and do not favor or affect one gender over another.[1]

Generally speaking, employers have a right to establish employee dress and grooming guidelines during work hours if they are reasonable and serve a legitimate business purpose. Such purposes include:

  • Maintaining a certain image with customers and competitors,
  • Safety, such as requiring employees to wear closed-toe shoes, goggles or gloves, and
  • Visibility, requiring employees to wear uniforms so that they are clearly recognizable to the public (e.g.: law enforcement).

In the vast majority of cases, employers do not have the right to monitor or regulate employees' off-the-job conduct; dress codes should not apply to activities outside of work. While some transgender employees may cross-dress outside of work — including cross-dressers and employees considering or beginning the process of transitioning genders — the employer should neither inquire about such activity nor take adverse action against such an employee should it learn about off-the-job cross-dressing from another source.


[1] Kristi Mackin. “Dress Codes 101,” Connecticut Employment Law Letter 11, no. 2, February 2003.