It’s that time of year—the weather is getting warmer and summer is just around the corner—it is shorts, T-shirts and sandal season! For many, this is the most challenging time of year for the dress code police. Dress codes, or the lack of them, cause problems every day for organizations. Take a look around your workplace. How would you respond to this dress code quiz?
- Does your organization have issues with the way people dress?
- Does management struggle with how to communicate what is appropriate attire for the workplace?
- Do you have clear dress guidelines?
- Can all your people distinguish between “traditional business attire,” “business-casual” and “resort casual” as they relate to professional situations?
- Do you allow business-casual dress days at least once a week? If so, do some employees “get it” while others confuse casual with being too sloppy or provocative?
- Are there people in your organization who are held back because of the way they dress and present themselves?
If you aren’t satisfied with the answers to the above questions then it may be time for a dress code policy/practice review. There are no federal laws governing employee dress codes. Employers may set whatever dress guidelines they wish, as long as they do not discriminate on the basis of gender, race, religion, disability or any other federally protected status. In general, courts have ruled that private employers may implement dress standards for employees as long as they can provide business justifications for them, and as long as the standards do not weigh more heavily on one group of people than another.
Consider the following tips to effectively address the dress code stress that may exist in your organization:
- Evaluate what kind of image your company wishes to present to the public and your clients, as a dress code will depend on your company’s industry and culture.
- Acknowledge that there are varying degrees of professional dress; for example, managers will need to dress more professionally if they are out actually meeting clients than if they are in the office doing administrative tasks.
- Consider drafting a standard company dress code to implement in your employee manual. Even a basic “what not to wear” list will go a long way in providing your employees an understanding of the company’s expectations. In order to ensure that the employees have a good understanding of what is appropriate under the new policy, employers should explain the reasons for setting the policy and the consequences for failure to comply. Some employers have used posters, brochures and even fashion shows to get the word out.
Even if your organization has dress code stress, it is possible to shift the paradigm to a middle-ground compromise, as long as you inform your employees of the organization’s expectations. Ultimately, whether your organization chooses to offer the occasional “casual Friday” or a business-casual policy, employees should acknowledge that they are the visual spokespeople for the organization, and therein lies the opportunity to put their best (dressed) foot forward. IBI