Is-Gender-Specific-Work-Dress-Code-Legal-in-California-scaled.jpeg (2560×1380)Dress code at work has always been a sticky subject in terms of employee rights. Some employers charge for uniforms, some make unreasonable demands, some are sticklers for cleanliness when you only have one or two sets of clothes to wear at work. But the biggest dress code problem of all is gender-specific rules that separate the expectations of men and women employees. Usually, these policies tend to disadvantage female employees, but in any situation, a gendered policy may disadvantage men or non-binary gendered employees as well.

Today, we’re here to take a quick look at what is and is not legal in gender-specific dress codes at work. Hopefully, this can help you answer the question of whether the dress code at your workplace is legal and practical or illegally discriminatory.

Illegal Gendered Dress Code Policies:

Put a Greater Burden on One Gender

The California state court has made it clear that some gendered separation in dress code is acceptable, but only if the difference doesn’t put a greater burden of effort and time on one gender or the other. A comparison might be if women are expected to style their hair while men are only expected to keep it short. This is unfair only if women are also not allowed to choose a short low-maintenance style instead of styling longer hair in an approved way.

Open Employees to Sexual Harassment

Many gendered dress codes — especially in the hospitality industry — focus on making female employees more attractive. This can be legally acceptable if it involves dress- and pant-suits, but is unacceptable if it opens female employees up to sexual harassment. Or if the dress code itself constitutes as sexual harassment. For example, if male servers are expected to wear black pants while female servers are expected to wear short black skirts. This exposes female employees to sexual harassment from customers and colleagues.

Prohibit Women from Wearing Pants

California has also made it illegal to force female employees to wear skirts instead of pants. While an employer may set guidelines for both pant and skirt outfits, women must be permitted to wear pants if they would prefer to. If your dress code bans women from wearing pants, then it is illegal in the state of California.

Legal Gendered Dress Code Policies:

Allow Additional Adornment for Women

Social norms can play a part in legal dress codes, particularly in what adornment is and is not allowed. For example, in any formal-dress workplace, it is customary to prohibit earrings, necklaces, makeup, nail polish, and other decorations from male dress codes. At the same time, women are permitted to wear earrings, necklaces, makeup, nail polish, and so on provided it falls within acceptable parameters for the style of workplace dress. This is legal.

Put Restrictions on Hair Styles and Makeup

Workplaces may also put restrictions on hair styles, makeup, and adornment unequally for men and women. Provided that these restrictions are reasonable and go along the lines of the style of business. For example, a workplace may dictate that men must have short hair while women with long hair must style their hair in specific ways that are visually acceptable to the workplace. Provided these styles do not infringe on personal or religious rights, your employer can ask this.

Do Not Put a Greater Burden on One Gender

Workplaces are also allowed to have wildly different dress code expectations for men and women employees as long as those expectations do not put a higher burden on one gender over the other. They can dictate that all women will dress as serving wenches and all men dress in mascot costumes, as long as the costumes take about the same time and effort to put on (and women can wear pants if they want to). They can dictate that all men wear bowler hats and all women wear fedoras. Or that women must wear stockings and men must wear dress socks. As long as the effort to comply is approximately equal.

Policies are Necessary for Business Functions

Finally, businesses are always allowed to set their dress codes based on the needs of the business itself. Though the burden to prove necessity is quite high. Safety always comes first, followed by the appearance of the business and relationship with customers. For example, men may be required to be clean-shaven if they wear masks for work. Women may be required to always have long hair pinned up to stay out of machinery or food. Even religious items like headscarves and yarmulkes may be curtailed or compromised on for safety.

Then there’s image of the business. Most courts will uphold that business-casual or formal dress has some gender expectations, but if a person puts in the effort to look nice within business dress norms, they should be allowed to.

Is your business within the bounds of California law in gender-specific dress codes? If not, there’s something you can do. At Aiman-Smith & Marcy, we have dedicated our careers to defending employee rights no matter how big or little the problem might seem. If your employer is violating your rights or the rights of your colleagues with gendered dress codes, you don’t have to stand for it. Contact us today and our legal team will gladly consult on how to defend your rights to a fair and gender-equal dress code in your workplace.

Lisseth Bayona


Education and Background

I am a Los Angeles native and daughter of Salvadorian immigrants. From an early age, my parents instilled the value of hard work and education in me and my two siblings. Their perseverance enabled each of us to graduate from college and earn professional degrees.

My interest and commitment to workers’ rights have roots in my parents’ experiences as undocumented workers in Los Angeles. Witnessing the challenges they faced inspired me to pursue a career where I can help individuals confronted with similar struggles. To help someone in those moments is very satisfying. I love connecting with people and learning about their stories. I believe that dignity in the workplace is a right of all workers, not a convenience or privilege reserved for employees of a certain race, gender, age, sexual orientation, or gender identity.

Legal Experience

I received my J.D. from the University of Southern California (USC) Gould School of Law. While there, I served as a judicial extern to the Honorable Patrick J. Walsh of the United States District Court for the Central District of California, where I drafted a criminal judicial opinion. Also, while at Gould, I served as an extern for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California. As a Criminal Division Extern, I had the opportunity to work closely with a trial team of Assistant U.S. Attorneys on a money laundering case which further sparked my interest in litigation.

Personal Interests

In my free time, I enjoy urban vegetable gardening, traveling, and spending time with my nephew and niece. I also love to spend time at San Onofre Beach learning to surf, although admittedly, I am not very good.



Hallie L. Von Rock

Attorney (SBN 233152)

Education and Background

I moved to the Bay Area from Washington after graduating high school. I had been accepted to UC Berkeley through a program where I could defer for two years while getting my California residency and attending community college, which was significant since I was paying for college on my own. I began working for Randall Aiman-Smith and Reed Marcy in 1996 as an office manager while taking night classes. My first foray into the legal world was soon after starting at the firm when I was ready to transfer to UC Berkeley. Rather than accepting my resident status, the Board of Regents took the position that California residency required a student to be in California “two calendar years.” Randall and Reed took up my case with the same verve as they helped their actual clients and I got the chance to comb through the UC Berkeley library to read their codes and regulations to support my position. In that experience, I learned what is was like to feel helpless against a big organization and then to have dedicated attorneys in my corner to take up my cause.

After a break to pursue my major in art history, I went to UC Hastings College of Law and continued working with Randall and Reed. Having worked together now for over 25 years, we have a unique ability to work collaboratively and finish each other’s sentences. I have strived throughout my career to make a difference in the lives of our clients. At the end of the day, if I am helping someone to get compensation for losses they suffered, then I know that all the work put into a case has been worth it.

Legal Experience

I have extensive experience in civil litigation and class action cases, including conducting discovery and depositions, calculating damages analysis, preparing motions for certification, writing appellate documents, and overseeing claims administration. We have handled several class actions against retailers where plaintiffs claimed they were forced to purchase clothing to wear to work and were not compensated for these purchases, including against Abercrombie & Fitch, Hugo Boss, Armani Exchange, Uniqlo, Dollar Tree, and Ross. Recently, I was trial counsel in a defamation claim against Bank of America on behalf of a former employee who claimed the Bank blacklisted her with future employers. The jury found Bank of America liable, including for punitive damages.

Personal Interests

Aiman-Smith & Marcy has sponsored me in the Boston Marathon and New York Marathon. When I race, I often wear a “Rockstar Ronan” shirt to support research for childhood cancer through The Ronan Thompson Foundation.


University of California, Berkeley, B.A., 1999

Hastings College of the Law, University of California, J.D., 2004

Randall Aiman-Smith

Abogado (SBN 124599)

Aiman-Smith & Marcy. Oakland consumer fraud attorneys.

Educación y antecedentes

Fui afortunado. A pesar de no haber terminado la escuela secundaria o la universidad, pude -aunque con mucho trabajo- ser admitido y sobresalir en una de las mejores escuelas de derecho del país: La Facultad de Derecho de la Universidad de Berkeley. Mientras estuve allí, tuve el privilegio de ser editor de la California Law Review y miembro del Moot Court Board, asesorando en la redacción de escritos y en la defensa de apelaciones a otros estudiantes. Después de salir de la escuela de derecho, en mis primeros años de práctica, enseñé la escritura legal y la defensa de apelación en la Universidad de California, Hastings College of the Law. También, a lo largo de los años, he sido presentador en eventos de educación legal continua.

Experiencia legal

He sido abogado durante 35 años. He dedicado mi práctica exclusivamente a representar a empleados, consumidores e inversores en los tribunales estatales y federales de primera instancia y en los tribunales de apelación. Me gusta ir a los tribunales por mis clientes y he llevado muchos casos con jurado en los tribunales estatales y federales.

¿Ejemplos? En 2010, fui la abogada principal, junto con los otros abogados del bufete, en el caso Williams v. Union Pacific Railroad donde, después de cuatro años de preparación, el bufete obtuvo un veredicto del jurado de 1.670.000 dólares para una empleada afroamericana. En Rivero v. Surdyka, fui el abogado principal en el juicio y la apelación de un caso de derechos civiles que duró 15 años, incluyendo un juicio completo y tres apelaciones al Noveno Circuito, concluyendo finalmente con una sentencia para los demandantes de más de 2.300.000 dólares. Estos casos ilustran el lema del bufete: compromiso – resultados. Hay que comprometerse con un caso, a veces durante mucho tiempo, para obtener el resultado que el cliente merece.

No siempre ganamos en el juicio. Cuando eso ocurre, el compromiso significa llevar el caso al siguiente nivel y recurrirlo. En el caso Rivero, antes mencionado, eso fue lo que ocurrió: el tribunal desestimó el caso -habíamos perdido- pero apelamos y conseguimos una victoria para nuestros clientes que mantuvimos a través de dos apelaciones más. Desde entonces, el bufete ha conseguido muchas victorias en apelación que reivindican los derechos de los empleados y los consumidores.

A lo largo de los años he sido abogado de los demandantes en numerosos casos individuales y acciones colectivas. Puede sonar cursi, o difícil de creer, pero después de todo este tiempo, y después de todas las grandes experiencias que he tenido, mi parte favorita de ser abogado es cuando consigo dar un cheque a mi cliente.



Facultad de Derecho, Universidad de California, Berkeley, J.D., 1986