Is there a guideline for what standards of presentation I can expect from my employees? These employees are customer-facing and are the first impression many people get of our business. I’m mostly concerned about the rainbow hair colour of some (may be a political statement, or not), as well as excessive facial piercings and visible tattoos.
Most State laws do not make discrimination unlawful on the basis of appearance and, in Victoria, where such a ground of discrimination exists, employers are able to set reasonable standards of dress/appearance.
What is considered ‘reasonable’ may depend on context, however, given the customer-facing role, it is unlikely to be discriminatory to ask workers to remove piercings, or cover tattoos.
Unless the reason that this person has coloured hair and tattoos is other than for mere appearance, you are unlikely to have discriminated against this person by requiring compliance with your new policy.
If, as you state, the rainbow hair colour could be related to political beliefs then you should be careful as taking steps against the employee could give rise to a discrimination claim.
A note about discrimination
It’s important to be wary of indirect discrimination when enforcing a dress code in the workplace – as some policies or company practices that appear to be neutral may disadvantage employees with certain attributes.
For example, a dress code that requires no hats or head covering to be worn in the workplace may discriminate against employees who wear head coverings for religious reasons.
In addition, discrimination laws vary by jurisdiction and what is discriminatory in one may not be in another – while some protections also exist for legitimate discrimination, such as not employing someone who cannot perform a role without unreasonable support.
A State-by-State explanation of what constitutes discrimination and the exemptions that apply can be found in the recently updated chapter D1 Discrimination of the Employment Law Practical Handbook.