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Office dress code do's and don'ts

By Higginbotham on May 14 , 2021

office dress code

An office dress code can ensure that employees know what is and is not considered appropriate clothing at work. However, creating dress codes can also be something of an HR landmine. Here are some do’s and don’ts to follow when creating your company’s dress code.

Do Define Appropriate Formal Business Attire and Business Casual Rules

If your company has a dress code, you need to be clear about what is and is not allowed. After all, one employee’s opinion of what counts as professional attire might be very different from another employee’s opinion. Expectations can change based on the person’s culture and generation, as well as the industry and location.

To make sure everyone is on the same page regarding dress code expectations, this information should be included in the employee handbook. Clearly stating what is and is not allowed can prevent employee confusion and disputes.

Exactly what clothes are considered appropriate will depend on many factors, including how formal the office environment is. For example, does the office require business professional dress? Or is business casual allowed? If the workplace observes a casual Friday with relaxed dress code rules, exactly how casual can the clothes be?

In a more formal business professional environment, appropriate office clothes typically include suits, knee-length or midi-length skirts, pantsuits, collared button-up shirts, ties, jackets and dress shoes.

In a business casual setting, appropriate office clothes may also include sweaters, polos, blouses, dresses and khakis. In more casual settings, dark jeans may also be allowed.

Certain clothes should not be worn to work in professional environments, often including:

  • Clothes that are too revealing. This typically includes clothes that expose a person’s cleavage, back or stomach, as well as short skirts or shorts.

  • Clothes that are too casual. This typically includes workout clothes and clothes with rips, tears or holes. Clothes with company or sport logos or messages may also be prohibited.

  • Inappropriate shoes. This typically includes flip flops and tennis shoes.
Don’t Forget about Hygiene and Grooming Issues

The employee dress code may state that employees should observe good hygiene and grooming practices. For example, hair and nails should be clean and neat. Additionally, the following issues should be considered:

  • Are employees allowed to have unnatural hair colors? Are their rules for facial hair?
  • Are employees allowed to have visible tattoos and piercings?
  • Are employees allowed to have long or brightly colored nails?
  • Are cologne and perfume prohibited?

Do Establish Disciplinary Policies

If there is an office dress code, employers should also have policies in place regarding what happens when employees commit dress code violations. Possible responses include:

  • Warning employees about the dress code violation
  • Asking employees to adjust their clothes at work – for example, to put on a jacket to cover up an inappropriate top
  • Sending employees home to change into appropriate workplace clothes
  • Terminating employees for serious or repeated violations

It is important to ensure that rules are enforced consistently. Additionally, when commenting on violations that involve potentially sensitive issues, such as revealing clothes, managers should be careful of how they word their reprimands.

Don’t Create Unnecessarily Strict Rules

According to Indeed, casual dress codes are becoming more common, and studies have shown that workers tend to prefer relaxed dress codes. One study found that 61 percent of workers have a negative view of companies that enforce dress codes, and some industries, including tech firms, have allowed employees to wear whatever they want as a recruiting tactic.

Modern employees want to be able to express themselves. They also want to feel comfortable. If a dress code is overly restrictive or forces workers to wear clothes that make them uncomfortable, they may reconsider their employment options.

Don’t Create Discriminatory Rules

A dress code can help ensure that all employees look professional and represent the company well – but be careful. A dress code that is seen as unfair or discriminatory in nature could also lead to a lawsuit.

Some employers may want to set different standards for men and women, but dress codes that establish different rules for men and women could be considered discriminatory against workers based on sex, sexual orientation or gender identity.

SHRM warns that dress codes that require women to appear more feminine and men to appear more masculine may be challenged, especially as views on gender evolve. In one example, a woman in Long Island sued her employer, claiming she was fired for dressing like a man. She wore a pantsuit and tie, and she had been told her clothes were unprofessional and she should “observe the ladies” to see what was appropriate.

There have been other similar cases. In another example, according to the ACLU, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled in favor of a transgender woman who was fired from her position as a funeral director after she came out as transgender.

Dress codes that appear discriminatory against certain religions, races or national origins may also be legally challenged. In one example, Fox News says a woman sued a Mississippi restaurant chain after she was denied a request to wear a skirt instead of pants because of her religious beliefs, which state that women should always wear skirts or dresses.

Political clothing can also lead to disputes. This is especially true if an employer allows employees to wear clothes or accessories with statements supporting certain political beliefs or social movements, but bans employees from wearing clothes or accessories supporting other political beliefs or social movements. Having clear and consistent rules that are not biased in favor or against particular beliefs may help employers avoid disputes.

Do Carefully Consider Requests for Dress Code Accommodations

Even if you write a workplace dress code that you think is reasonable, an employee may object and request an accommodation.

According to HR Daily Advisor, when this happens, managers should avoid making snap judgements. If the request is related to a protected class, such as religion, and if accommodating the request would not create an undue hardship, then the employer may be legally obligated to grant the accommodation. If safety concerns or other legitimate issues are involved, this must be communicated clearly.

Do Enlist the Help of An HR Partner so You Can Manage Confidently

Questions surrounding employees’ hygiene, grooming and dress code are complex and must be managed carefully. If you don’t specialize in human resources, these questions can be overwhelming. That’s why it’s a good idea to have an HR partner who can help you weigh the pros and cons of your actions.

Learn more about Higginbotham’s HR Outsourcing and Consulting Services.

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