Q: We interviewed an applicant for our receptionist position that was dressed as a woman but looks like a man. My conservative boss doesn’t want to hire her because she might turn off customers. Is this a legitimate reason not to hire her?
A: No. Customer-facing jobs, such as receptionists and sales representatives, are often tied to having a socially acceptable “look.” While it is perfectly legal to require a professional, clean appearance, it is generally illegal to require an employee to look like a specific gender. This is considered gender stereotyping, and there is a long line of court cases and agency rules prohibiting this type of gender discrimination. Having a preconceived notion of what an appropriate receptionist looks like can also run afoul of disability and religious protections (e.g., refusing to hire an applicant with a facial disfigurement or a religious head wrap). Advise your boss that civil rights laws require you to provide equal employment opportunity to all applicants, which means focusing on whether the applicant has the skills, qualifications, and values to perform the job duties and thrive in your culture. You may also be selling your customers short on their open-mindedness; it’s possible they may applaud your company’s action to embrace diversity.
This website presents general information in nontechnical language. This information is not legal advice. Before applying this information to a specific management decision, consult legal counsel.