Employment Law: Can An Employer Ask Workers To Whiten Their Teeth?

  • By Arcadier, Biggie & Wood, PLLC
  • 212

Employment Law

In April of 2013, Forbes Magazine published a piece entitled “The 15 Weirdest Demands by Bosses.” Although this kind of listicle piece is commonplace on a site like Buzzfeed, the fact that the respected financial writers at Forbes chose to tackle this topic signaled that extreme employer demands aren’t just a subject for the watercooler. They serve as influences that can affect worker morale and even a company’s bottom line.

Among the extreme employer requests and demands outlined in the Forbes piece were the following:

  •       Spy on senior management
  •       Terminate the boss’s brother
  •       Post false comments online about the boss
  •       Pitch a concept for the boss’s daughter to develop for her school’s science fair
  •       Lend the boss money
  •       Clip the boss’s dog’s toenails – It is safe to say that this employee was probably not a professional dog groomer

When compared with some of these requests or demands, having an employer ask or demand that a worker whiten their teeth may seem relatively “tame.” Yet, the idea that a boss would ask or demand that a worker whiten their teeth is, under most circumstances, inherently offensive. If the worker is a model, actor, onscreen talent, performer, or otherwise utilizes a healthy smile as a function of their job duties, the employer may be within their rights to ask or demand that a worker take such action. But, most of the time, this approach is downright unethical. But, is it illegal?

The Purposes of Cosmetic Dentistry

Teeth whitening is a form of cosmetic dentistry. As an experienced cosmetic dentist can explain in greater detail, the purposes of cosmetic dentistry are to facilitate a brighter, more confident smile. This are of dental practice is distinct from general dentistry, which is primarily concerned with a patient’s oral health.

When someone seeks out a professional teeth whitening service, which is a medical procedure, they should do so because having a brighter smile will enhance their wellbeing, not their boss’s sense of who they should be and what they should look like. As a result, it is important for workers who face this dilemma to understand what their rights are.

What the Law Says

Both federal and state employment laws safeguard workers from a host of different kinds of discrimination. For example, workers are generally entitled to work, apply for work, and face the risk of termination free from discrimination based on race, color, national origin, religion, genetics, age (over 39), sex, and sexual orientation. Additional laws protect a number of other characteristics in certain states and under certain circumstances.

The one unifying thread between these protected characteristics, however, is that they are immutable in nature. One doesn’t choose one’s national origin, age, race, sex, etc. Employers remain generally entitled to fire or engage in adverse employment action for reasons that may be stupid, unethical, and unjust, provided that they aren’t discriminating against a worker due to a protected immutable characteristic.

As a result of these legal limitations, a boss can take action against a worker for the color of their teeth, just not the color of their skin. With that said, if an employer does not work for the entertainment or magazine industry and they are so ignorant as to demand teeth whitening of a worker whose smile isn’t part of their job description, the affected worker may do well to walk out the door anyway.



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