For many businesses, gone are the days of requiring employees to wear three-piece suits, shined shoes, and cuff links. The “Silicon Valley effect”, as some call it, has facilitated changes in dress code ranging from business-casual five-day weeks to straight-up jeans and hoodies. This seems as good a time as any to remind business-owners of all shapes and sizes that dress codes—whatever they may be—need to remain clear, consistent, and fair.
Establishing a Clear Code
Regardless of what you choose to use as your dress code, it’s important to remember that consistency, clarity, and fairness are the three pillars on which your policy stands. If you aren’t enforcing the dress code on the same level and basis for all of your employees, questions will invariably arise; keeping all of your employees bound to the same policy will prevent any potentially nasty kickback from occurring.
Your dress code should already exist in the employee handbook, but you should also consider posting it in places in which your employees gather or work for extra emphasis. This is especially important if your dress code requires employees to wear protective gear or extra layers due to occupational hazards; unless you want a lawsuit on your hands, make sure your safety or environmental requirements are both universally understood and clearly stated.
What you probably shouldn’t do is establish unenforceable rules (e.g., dress length measured via a ruler) or assign vague terms (e.g., “business casual”) if you have specific preferences. Your employees will most likely respect (and understand) you more readily if you outline your exact expectations up front than if you tell them to do one thing that, to their perception, sounds like something completely different.
In the past, dress codes have included elaborate, point-by-point breakdowns regarding specific garments, situations, and gender-based clothing choices. While it’s true that some occupations will require a more formal approach than others, it’s also fair to assume that employees have a general grasp of how to dress for your business in 2019. If your workplace is casual enough to allow employees to make decisions for themselves, don’t feel like you have to establish a several-page-long dress code.
Encouraging your employees to make wardrobe decisions which complement their creativity without inhibiting their productivity or professional appearance will undoubtedly go further in today’s work environment than will outlining the dos and don’ts of every possible clothing combination you expect to see from your workers.
However, one area in which you absolutely should not compromise is footwear. Your work environment doesn’t matter in this case—all employees should wear full-coverage, closed-toe shoes without exception. This stipulation is as much to protect you as it is to protect your employees’ wee feet, so don’t shy away from enforcing it.
Naturally, the clothes people choose to wear are both personally expressive and individually significant; therefore, approaching an employee about a potential dress code infraction is a delicate matter. You can avoid confusion about your company’s dress code by making the code as clear as possible in commonly visited areas (e.g., the break room), but there’s no doubt that asking an employee to change their clothes due to an infraction is a sensitive issue.
This issue doubles in sensitivity when factoring in gender. While your dress code rules should include stipulations ensuring that no one faces discrimination due to their gender or body type, you may find yourself in a situation in which you have to ask an employee to dress up more than they’ve done. In any such case, ask yourself whether you would ask an employee of a different gender to make a comparable change; if so, you can proceed, whereas any hesitation may mean you’re exhibiting bias.
While the law usually indicates that you can establish different dress codes for men and women as long as the differences aren’t limiting, it’s probably better to set a degree of formality and then let employees make their own choices from there than it is to assign specific garments based on gender. This will prevent any sticky questions from both cisgender and transgender employees, thereby preventing an inadvertent HR call.
Dress code can prove an awkward—if not downright insurmountable—problem for some employers, and one misstep can result in anything from an HR-sponsored slap on the wrist to a full-blown discrimination case. For more information about how you can make your dress code as inclusive and descriptive as possible, call Abacus Payroll at (856) 667-6225 today!