Remind employees of your expectations on workplace attire

July 13, 2017

As the weather gets hotter outside, employees are more likely to dress more casually and less professionally, and press the limit by wearing flip-flops and crop tops.

Now might be a good time to remind employees of your expectations on workplace attire.

Not every workplace requires an elaborate dress code. The amount of detail needed in a dress code will generally depend on cultural norms of the industry and organization, and whether there is customer interaction. Preliminarily, most organizations should consider a basic expectation of all employees related to dress.

It is not illegal for employers to set different expectations for men and women, so long as there are generally equally onerous restrictions on both genders. However, the transgender challenges have caused this to test some legal limits. In addition, it is illegal for employers to discipline employees based on gender stereotypes (for instance, women who wear pant suits that look more masculine).

Policies around dress code should reflect the business needs and expectations of the organization and job of the individual.

It is acceptable to have different dress code expectations within the same organization depending on the job. Jobs that are customer-facing may require different dress code requirements than those working in a customer service call center where there is no physical customer interaction.

Employers have moved in recent years to a more casual attire environment and this has been good for recruitment and worker satisfaction, but difficult to know where the line is on what is appropriate. In addition, studies show that employees behave the way they are dressed.

Thus, a more professionally dressed work environment will interact more professionally, with some experts claiming that dress even affects thinking and analytical levels.

When writing a policy, employers may need to amend the policy for various reasons, such as reasonable accommodations due to religion or disability. For example, a “no hats or headdress” policy could affect men or women whose religious beliefs requires the wearing of a headdress. In addition, a “no tennis shoes” rule could affect a person with a disability who must wear certain shoes as an accommodation.

Employers do not have to accommodate an employee if the accommodation presents an undue hardship. For example, a court ruled that women who were working in a correctional facility were not entitled to violate the dress code and wear hijabs in support of their religious beliefs because, the employer argued, contraband could be hidden in the headdress, someone could use it as a weapon and people were less identifiable wearing the headdress.

These safety concerns trumped their right to an accommodation. Of interest, the court did not find it significant that these risks ever came to fruition.

The court said they only had to identify the risk as a possibility, and the organization didn’t have to wait for something to happen before it is a risk that has to be addressed.

Ideally, employers are consistent in holding employees accountable for violations of the dress code.

But realistically managers can only control how they interpret the dress code, and should use the help of human resources department to have the conversations.

When addressing violations, be specific and direct, and don’t make it personal. Unless the dress is highly offensive or inappropriate, don’t send the employee home to change, but simply note in the file that the issue occurred and ask the person to not reoffend.

Employers should understand the impact of dress on workplace culture and behavior. It’s probably more significant than employers may realize. Addressing what may seem to be minor violations could prevent the inevitable violation creep that tends to occur when small violations are left unaddressed.