Poll: Public Divided on Regulating Appearance in the Office

Most would agree that nose rings and obesity are more common than ever in the U.S. workplace, but a new survey says the nation is divided over whether employers should have the right to ban body piercings or compel large-framed employees to drop weight.

In the survey released today, 39 percent said employers should have the right to deny employment to someone based on appearance, including weight, clothing, piercings, body art or hairstyle.

The survey comes as employer-employee disputes over appearance increasingly spill into the courts and government enforcement agencies. A rash of recent cases includes an Atlantic City casino sued over a requirement that cocktail waitresses undergo weekly weigh-ins and a national superstore challenged for its prohibition on "visible facial or tongue jewelry (earrings excepted)."

"Appearance discrimination is an issue employers have struggled with for decades, yet few companies have put policies in place to guide managers on how to govern their employees' appearance," said Henry M. Perlowski, co-chair of the Employment Law Team at Atlanta law firm Arnall Golden Gregory LLP. "It would behoove any company to address its stance on employee appearance with formal policies and open communication, as the litigation route can be costly and disruptive."

A few findings from the survey:

  • 33 percent said that in their own workplace, workers who are physically attractive are more likely to be hired and promoted.
  • 33 percent said workers who are unattractive, overweight or generally look or dress unconventionally should be given special government legal protection such as that given persons with disabilities.
  • Of the 39 percent who said employers should have the right to deny employment based on looks, men outnumbered women 46 percent to 32 percent, and whites outnumbered non-whites 41 percent to 24 percent.

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