By Rights... Answers to Your Human Rights Questions

Column 28

In this column:

  • Can an Employer Dictate Female Skirt Length?
  • Do Employees Charging Sexual Harassment Have a
    Right to Know What Action Was Taken?

Can an Employer Dictate Female Skirt Length?

My employer recently passed around a draft of a "Standards of Professional Behavior" and one of the guidelines states: no skirts above the knee. Are they allowed to tell us how long our skirts have to be?

The Commissioner says:

Courts have allowed employers to set dress and grooming codes, including provisions describing the clothing or appearance required even if employees do not wear uniforms. It's possible that in some circumstances an employer's requirements could amount to discrimination based on sex or religion or national origin, but it doesn't appear that not allowing above-the-knee hemlines would be a violation of the Minnesota Human Rights Act.

Do Employees Charging Sexual Harassment Have a Right to Know What Action Was Taken?

What must an employer tell a complainant regarding an investigation or action on a complaint? We have a Team Lead at work who has had numerous complaints lodged against him, including at least one of a sexual nature (he told an employee her problems with her boyfriend were probably because she didn't "put out" enough). He has also discriminated against an older female employee in favor of younger females with whom he could flirt, and created a hostile work environment for several female employees. He has also stated, "I am the man" when explaining why his is the only "right" opinion or way of doing a task. Our HR and managers say they can't tell us anything about their investigations of complaints we have brought. Two employees were forced to give written statements related to an incident related to this person, and one of them was written up based upon the written statement she was forced to give. Please let us know what our rights are!

The Commissioner says:

When an employer knows or should know that sexual harassment is occurring, the employer has an obligation under the state Human Rights Act to take timely and appropriate action to ensure that the harassment stops. The employer is not required under the Act to provide anyone, including those who complained of the harassment, with information about how it chose to investigate the complaint or any other steps it may have taken to resolve the issue. As long as the harassment stops, the employer has met its obligation under the Act with respect to that behavior. You mention that one employee was "written up" based on information that employee was required to provide. We don't have enough information to comment about that situation. We would point out, however, that it is also a violation of the Human Rights Act for an employer to retaliate against an employee who complains of sexual harassment or aids in the investigation of an incident of alleged harassment. If you believe your employer has failed to stop the harassment, engaged in reprisal, or otherwise treated some employees adversely because of their race, sex, or another characteristic protected under the Act, you may want to contact our intake unit at 651-296-5663 or 1-800-657-3704.

The answers in these columns are not intended as legal advice. The Department of Human Rights does not make a judgment on any case without carefully examining all the facts.

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