Most hospitality employers maintain and enforce a dress code to strengthen their brand images and promote uniformity in the workplace. But can an employer prohibit an employee from wearing any pins and buttons on a uniform?
It is well-settled that an employer violates the National Labor Relations Act when it prohibits employees from wearing union insignia at the workplace, absent special circumstances. The National Labor Relations Board (Board) has found special circumstances justifying the proscription of union insignia and apparel when their display may jeopardize employee safety, damage machinery or products, exacerbate employee dissension, or unreasonably interfere with a public image that the employer has established, as part of its business plan, through appearance rules for its employees.
What does it take to demonstrate "special circumstances" to ban buttons?
In a recent decision, the Board took issue with an employer's "Dress Code and Personal Hygiene Policy" that prohibited those who had contact with the public from wearing pins, insignias or other message clothing. Boch Imports, Inc., Case 01-CA-08355 (April 30, 2015).
The employer, a car dealership, argued that the button ban was necessary to avoid injury to employees and damage to vehicles. The Board disagreed, and found that as written, the rule applied to employees who had no contact with the public, regardless of whether they had contact with the employer's vehicles.
Noting that the rule applied to employees who did not typically have contact with vehicles, such as finance and administrative personnel, that the record did not include any evidence supporting actual safety concerns related to pin-wearing, public-facing employees, and that the policy made no mention of safety concerns, the Board found the ban unlawful.
The takeaways from this decision are to tread cautiously when considering enacting an across-the-board ban on buttons, and consider whether "special circumstances" justify such a ban.