I was in a store recently and the young lady checking out had a ring in her nose through the lower center septum. Now, In my practice, I represent employees who have been discriminated against by employers. But, I’m also an employer and a customer, so it occurred to me, in light of recent cases, whether an employer can still prohibit an employee from wearing a nose ring at work. Recently, a federal court ruled that an employer could not prevent a Muslim employee from wearing a hijab (head covering) that is worn as part of her religious belief and observance. However, another court has just recently ruled that an employer can prevent an employee from wearing dreadlocks because they are not traditionally associated with any race or religion. Obviously, we all know that an employer needs to be able to exert some control over the appearance of employees, in order to present an orderly and attractive store appearance. So, an employer can prevent a nose ring, as long as the employee cannot reasonably claim that it is required by his/her religion. Some say, “well that’s discrimination.” Yes it may be, but discrimination itself is not illegal; what makes it illegal is the basis of the discrimination. It is only when the discrimination is based on certain categories such as race, religion, national origin, sex, disability, age, or retaliation for an employee having complained about illegal discrimination. (there are a few others but the foregoing are the main ones).

There is a case out of the First Circuit,Cloutier vs. Costco Wholesale Corp., 390 F.3d 126 (1st Cir.2004), in which an employee, who wore a nose ring, refused to remove it when the employer ordered her to do so claiming she was a member of the “Church of Body Modification.”  The issue then became whether the employer could reasonably accommodate the religious belief and still maintain its right to protect its public image, especially with employees who interact with the public. Also, the issue centered around whether the religious belief was sincerely held or just a way to get around the rule.  The Court ultimately granted summary judgment to the employer ruling that the employer could not accommodate the employee’s request and still maintain it’s public image.  Another case,  EEOC vs. Papin Enterprises, Inc. et al., No 6:07-cv-1548-Orl-28GJK (April 7, 2009) came to the opposite result holding that since the parties had conceded that the employee’s desire to wear the nose ring was religiously sincere, the issue became whether the employer could reasonably accommodate her desire to wear the ring.  The Court held that the wearing of the nose ring would not cause the employer an undue hardship and therefore the employee’s case survived summary judgment.

If you are an employer here is link with a more in depth discussion of this area of grooming/appearance and the law by an employer centered firm: