Making Hiring Decisions Based on Physical Appearance – Is It Legal?

EEOCThe Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) regulations state that employers cannot refuse to hire a person based on sex, race, age, disability, or other stated characteristics. These regulations include physical appearance. However, if an employer can prove that an aspect of physical appearance is a bona fide occupational qualification Title VII provides an exception to that rule.

An example of such an exception would be a job advertisement that contains an age range for applicants, or wording such as recent college graduate. Such phrasing would discount older applicants and would be considered a violation of the EEOC regulations, unless age is determined to be a necessary requirement for a specific role. Therefore,

  • It is not a violation of federal anti-discrimination law to hire on the basis of looks, attractiveness, or personal appearance if it can be proved that the quality is required for a specific job.
  • However, such a policy may be forbidden by state law depending on the state.

According to Bankers, an employer, for example, could claim that it hires only physically attractive people but that it will hire attractive people of any gender, race, national origin, or disability so long as they meet a certain standard of attractiveness and not violate federal law. This employer is, therefore, not excluding applicants of any gender, race, or other special characteristic. However, if that employer were to claim that it will hire only physically strong people, it might be at risk of discriminating against individuals based on disability unless the employer can argue that physical strength is a requirement of the position.

A study conducted by assistant Professor Stefanie Johnson at the University of Colorado Denver Business School and published in discussed the Journal of Social Psychology suggests that employers are discriminating on the basis of appearance. The study found that that while being an attractive male was an advantage in all jobs; attractive women were discriminated against and their physical appearance was detrimental to success in typically male jobs such as engineering or construction management. Depending on whether a role is considered typically masculine, such as a construction worker, or feminine, receptionist, attractiveness can be an advantage or a disadvantage for women.

Employers should always seek expert advice to avoid legal problems. Managers should establish clear guidelines and policies for hiring and human resource decisions.

If you have questions on this topic, contact our team expert professionals to learn more.

2019-04-25T00:50:10+00:00January 17th, 2014|HR & Management, Staffing|