Implementing and enforcing a dress code is an ongoing conversation for many employers. As warm weather approaches, employees start stretching what is “acceptable” office attire resulting in uncomfortable conversations for managers. So, what drives your dress code policy? Do employees really know what the policy means? Employers might need to take a step back and really look at their policy.
Dress code policies should reflect the image a company is trying to portray and not an individual’s personal preference. Just because one person doesn’t like tattoos, does not mean they are banned. For example, Starbucks revisited their dress code, and now allows tattoos. Although tattoos are not banned, all visible tattoos must be appropriate. The Starbucks dress code also explains what appropriate means.
When creating a dress code policy, it is recommended to stay gender neutral and provide examples. If there is a gender specific policy, it must be reasonable and equally burdensome for both parties. Individuals can decide to dress according to the gender of their choice, and employers cannot force an employee to dress according to their birth gender. Instances may arise where accommodation requirements for employees could violate a company’s dress code policy, such as religious beliefs and disabilities. Being unwilling to provide reasonable accommodation or forcing a specific gender dress can lead to a discrimination lawsuit.
Employers must be proactive when implementing or revising a dress code by:
- Educating Employees – Let employees know specifically what they can and cannot wear. For example, if a policy says, “Business Casual” then it should state if blue jeans are allowed. List items to wear such as dress pants or khakis. Include what not to wear to help clarify what is expected (Gurchiek, 2016).
- Religious Accommodations – Different religions have different dress requirements. Employees could have concerns about religious standards that are against the policy (Goldstein, 2016).
- Open Communication – Be open to employees about changes, listen to feedback, and be receptible to recommendations. Provide reasons about decisions to help individuals understand why the policy is in place. Not all recommendations can be implemented, but solutions could increase employee morale.
Being clear and upfront with employees regarding policies can lead to higher levels of employee happiness. Making sure employees know what is expected and why, makes enforcing policies easier. When enforcing dress code, employers must be consistent across all staff. Disciplinary steps need to be established for the organization for any type of violation. If employees are treated differently, the company is opening the doors to discrimination. When a policy is violated by an employee without punishment, other employees will follow suit resulting in a more relaxed dress code.
Being proactive is key. As an employer, try to remain proactive and not reactive. For example, when weather changes, send out an all employee email reminding employees of the dress code. This will help employees know the standards and make it easier for managers to enforce the dress code.