When the weather gets warmer, employees tend to wear less clothing and possibly dress inappropriately for a business environment. Even though many companies have designated business casual as their dress code there is the possibility for employers to face various problems because employees wear clothing considered too casual for the workplace. There is a difference between business casual and weekend casual. Because a standard of judgment about appropriate or inappropriate clothing depends on each person’s perspective, it is important for employers to inform employees regarding the company’s standard guideline for workplace dress and appearance.
Periodically, we receive inquiries from managers who are concerned about being accused of sexually harassing an employee if they discuss their inappropriate dress attire. But, if employers do not warn an inappropriately-dressed employee, it can lead not only to complaints from other employees who feel uncomfortable in the presence of this employee, but also risk the situation expanding into a sexual harassment issue. This is why it is necessary for employers to deal with inappropriately-dressed employees quickly and fairly.
If your company does not have a written dress code policy, managers should still provide warnings to employees based on their own subjective judgment and then apply this judgment consistently with all of their employees. The existence of a clear dress code policy will/can be a helpful tool for managers to give warnings objectively. Managers can request that an inappropriately-dressed employee go home to change into more appropriate business-related attire, but warnings to employees should be done fairly. The Company is responsible for making sure employees are being dealt with fairly and equitably in all similar situations when a change of attire is requested. In addition, employers need to provide an accommodation to employees who wear specific clothing due to their religious beliefs.
It is possible for employers to apply a standard dress and appearance policy in the workplace as long as the policy is equally applied to all groups and there is no discriminatory impact on race, skin color, nationality, age, sex, religion or disability. It is important for employers to mandate policy of dress and appearance to protect employees’ health and safety. For example, an employer can create a policy which prohibits employees from wearing jewelry or having a particular hair style if such causes a dangerous situation for employees who operate machinery in factories. A policy is enforceable if it is created for the protection of the employees’ health and safety even if it is opposed to the employees’ sex, race, religious practice or disability.
In addition, if employees who normally work in an office environment need to go into the company’s factory or a warehouse located next to the office, the dress code policy for the factory or the warehouse has to be applied to all employees. For example, it is typically unsafe to go into a factory or a warehouse wearing open-toe shoes, which are acceptable in the office environment but inappropriate in a factory or a warehouse. It is necessary for employers to make sure that all employees who have the possibility of entering a factory or a warehouse understand the policies and put them into practice.
The following are guidelines to consider when creating and/or reviewing a dress code policy:
1. To determine a standard of appropriate clothing attire being consistent with an employee’s job duties (For example, a standard of clothing should be different for employees who work mostly in a warehouse than employees who work mostly in an office environment.);
2. To clearly document what type of clothing attire is appropriate or inappropriate in the workplace (Since each person interprets the written word differently, it is helpful if employers place a chart of examples of appropriate and inappropriate clothing);
3. To check if the content of the dress code policy is considered as discriminatory toward a certain type of group, and if so to revise it, when necessary;
4. A dress code policy should be in line with all existing safety rules;
5. Clothing worn by management employees who supervise/manage employees should set a good example (manage by example);
6. To provide an explanation regarding appropriate clothing set by the employer to management employees, when necessary.
We suggest reviewing existing dress code policies when reviewing the company’s employee handbook. If the company does not currently have a dress code policy, we suggest adding one in the next revision of the company’s employee handbook. For example, for “business casual”, many employers allow employees to wear jeans. However, your company needs to inform employees that wearing jeans with holes or torn jeans are not appropriate in the workplace and therefore, are not allowed. There is a difference in the jeans they may wear for work versus to the club after work or to do yard work on the weekend. In short, we suggest employers clearly define dress and appearance expectations for the workplace; make sure all employees acknowledge the content of the dress code; make sure management employees who warn inappropriately-dressed employees understand the content of the company’s dress code policy and understand it; and, managers and supervisors are careful to treat employees fairly and consistently.