Ynet (via Vos Iz Neias) is reporting that a new dress regulation will be taking effect at the Shas' Maayan Torah education network in Israel. Specifically, the regulation states that all women employed there must wear a full head covering when reporting for work. In addition, the only acceptable form of head-covering for women is a scarf -- wigs are not permitted (the article doesn't address snoods or other non-hair-like coverings). According to a source in the article, women have been threatened with dismissal if they do not dress according to code.
This new regulation has many women outraged. As you can imagine, there are women who work there who cover their hair with sheitels or other materials. In addition, the article makes no distinction between married and unmarried women.
Some of the VIN commentors have taken the approach that an employer has the right to dictate how employees dress and if you don't like it, you're free to go work someplace else. That's certainly true. If my boss, for whatever insane reason, dictated that employees come to work in bumblebee costumes everyday, I could either go to the costume shop or find a new place to work.*
However, in the above case, my boss has made his bumblebee decree for arbitrary reasons. In this case, however, there is a rationale behind the regulations -- obstensibly, the rationale is halacha. Whomever is issuing these decrees obviously feels that women are required by halacha to wear complete head coverings. And, I suppose, it's not entirely unreasonable to use halacha as a guideline for employee conduct in a religious office in a religious state.
But one has to wonder just how far this can be taken. If one can rule that millions of otherwise observant women who cover their hair with sheitels are violating halacha (despite the fact that millions of frum Jews around the world and in Israel itself view this as perfectly acceptable and within halacha) and therefore worthy of termination, then where does it end?
Should an employer be allowed to raid the contents of employee lunchboxes to make sure they're only using chassidshe shechita or cholov yisroel? Should an employer be allowed to tell employees that they can't go to an otherwise glatt kosher resturaunt for lunch because it doesn't meet his/her personal standards (real or imagined)? Should an employer be allowed to fire a worker who rides to work on a non-mehadrin bus where one is available? In short, where does it end? At what point do we say that the employer doesn't have the right to enforce his brand of halacha at the workplace
Yes, there is still the principle that a worker is not a slave and is free to quit her job at any time. If she doesn't like the rules, she's free to move on. But that's not really the answer is it? I don't know what the economic situation in Israel is like at the current time, but I can't imagine that they're unemployement problem is any better than ours is here in the U.S. Just saying "go get another job" is not the answer -- it's not always so easy. Who says the person can find another job quickly, and at the same salary? In addition, employees have certain intagible benefits that come from being in a job -- seniority, repuation, familiarity with co-workers and the surrounding of the workplace, job security and other benefits that we all enjoy from working at a place after a certain amount of time. By forcing a worker to move on, they lose a lot (if not all) of these benefits. I'm not convinced that forcing an worker to lose these benefits simply for the sake of someone else's interpretation of halacha (when their own is kept by millions of otherwise frum women around the world) is acceptable and proper.
Again, no one argues that there should be minimum standards of dress for both genders in the workplace. And, yes, halacha should probably play a role in that code in a religious office in Israel. But you can't just apply the strictest standard of halacha. It's simply not fair.
* Yes, I understand that there may be other options, but that's really beside the point.