Can I be fired for what I wear to work?

A question callers regularly ask us at Gold Star Law is whether they can be fired because of what they wear to work.  Sometimes the employee is wearing something the employer objects to, such as clothing or accessories with political messages, religious clothing, or clothing with language or images that some find offensive for any other reason.  Sometimes the employer claims that the employee’s clothing is a dress code violation of some sort.  For several reasons, employees and employers often clash when it comes to workplace attire.  What rights do you have, as an employee, when it comes to what you wear to work, and when it is illegal for your employer to do something about how you dress?

In general, employment in Michigan is at-will.  That means you can be fired for any reason that is not an illegal reason, including, in most cases, what you wear.  So, if you wear a green shirt to work, and everyone else wears blue, your employer can say “I just don’t like green anymore” and fire you for it.  Is that fair?  Probably not.  Is that illegal?  Probably not.  HOWEVER, depending on the circumstances, you may still have a valid claim for a lawsuit.  Say you wear a green shirt, and everyone else wears all sorts of colors, including green.  Now say you specifically get targeted and fired for wearing a green shirt.  Suddenly, it looks like the color of your shirt was just an excuse, and there may be some other reason you were fired.  If you were actually fired for an illegal reason, such as your race, religion, sex, or in retaliation for complaining about something where you have a protected right to speak up, the clothing excuse looks like a cover-up, and you could still bring a claim for discriminatory or retaliatory firing.

Assuming the issue with your clothing was not just an excuse to fire you for some other reason, there are still circumstances where you cannot legally be fired for what you wear to work.  Certain religious garments are protected in most circumstances.  If you dress a certain way because of your religious beliefs, such as covering your head, wearing a prayer shawl, covering your face, wearing your hair a certain way, or any other religiously-based manner of dress, your employer has to allow you to do that unless they have a legitimate reason why they cannot, usually a safety concern.  It may legitimately be unsafe to allow certain loose articles of clothing or accessories, such as a prayer shawl, in a factory setting where it could get caught in machinery.  However, in an office setting, an employer would be hard pressed to come up with a believable reason why religious clothing is a problem such that it should not be allowed.

If you believe that you were fired for an illegal reason, including dressing in a way that should be protected as a matter of law, contact Gold Star Law for help.