Saturday, April 1, 2023

Alaska Airlines Announces ‘Gender-Neutral’ Policies in Response to ACLU Letter

Alaska Airlines Announces ‘Gender-Neutral’ Policies in Response to ACLU Letter

News brief:

  • Alaska Airlines will allow flight attendants to order uniform kit items online, and the company will implement “new gender-neutral hair policies” allowing flight attendants to wear their hair down when not handling food, regardless of their gender, according to a statement.
  • The airline’s announcement is in response to a letter sent June 4 by attorneys at the American Civil Liberties Union which asserted that Alaska Airlines maintained “rigid, binary uniform requirements” segmented into “‘male'” and “‘female'” dress and grooming requirements that forced all employees to conform to one of the two categories without the ability to mix and match certain uniform pieces from either. The letter also alleged differences in grooming requirements between the two categories. The ACLU attorneys further alleged that the company’s policy violated anti-discrimination provisions under Washington state law and Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
  • In its statement, Alaska Airlines said flight attendants have been able to order any pant or parka style when selecting their uniforms since “early 2020” and said it is “committed to continuing to explore uniform and grooming standards for our flight attendants.”

The airline’s update comes at a time in which many large organizations have updated their uniform policies with the goal of adding flexibility and building inclusivity.

Examples include The Walt Disney Company, which announced in April that it would allow cast members to have more options with respect to certain costume choices, as well as financial services organization TIAA, which last year updated its policies to permit employees to dress according to their gender identity.

Within the aviation industry, United Airlines announced this month a plan to revise its appearance standards for flight attendants, including gender-inclusive revisions to policies on visible tattoos, nose rings, nails, hair, and makeup, New Mexico local news station KRQE reported.

Asked about its response to Alaska Airlines’ statement, ACLU offered a statement from Josh Block, a senior staff attorney.

“As our letter makes clear, if Alaska Airlines continues to require that employees adhere to either a predetermined ‘male’ uniform kit and grooming standards or a ‘female’ uniform kit and grooming standards, it will be violating the Washington Law Against Discrimination and Title VII,” Block said. “We hope that after further consideration Alaska Airlines will work with us voluntarily to bring its uniform policy into full compliance with the law.”

Legal experts have previously urged HR teams to use caution when formulating uniform policies, as strict requirements can potentially create both legal and cultural issues in the workplace.

Generally, employers have opted for more casual dress codes in recent years. A 2019 Indeed report found 62% of workplaces analyzed had at least one casual dress day per week.