Don’t “Flip Flop” on Your Company’s Dress Code

by Cindy Kolbkolb-cindy square

As the weather heats up, companies are often faced with employees who may blur the lines of appropriate workplace attire. Flip-flops, revealing clothing and even beachwear sometimes make an appearance at work during the summer months. Employers should be proactive about having and enforcing a dress code. One reason to have a written dress code in place is to relieve managers and supervisors of having to make judgment calls on what is and is not acceptable. Subjective apparel standards by managers and supervisors can lead to complaints by employees of inconsistencies, or worse, discrimination.

A written dress code policy is necessary for health, safety and productivity. It also is necessary to protect the image you want to project to your customers and clients. A dress code policy should state the business justification for the dress code, such as to present a professional environment or to ensure a safe workplace. The dress code should be clear about what is and is not appropriate attire and should give examples. For example, are open-toed shoes or sleeveless tops acceptable? Don’t just say “business casual,” as that term can be interpreted in many ways. Also be clear about what days are designated for casual dress. Be precise in the language of your policy in an effort to avoid misinterpretation.

It is also good to set out in writing how the policy will be enforced and what will happen if an employee violates the dress code. An inadvertent or initial violation may warrant just a reminder while a flagrant violation may result in sending the employee home to change. The written dress code should also state that repeated violations – as with any policy – may result in disciplinary action, up to and including termination. However, be consistent about enforcing the dress code no matter the person’s age or position in the company. If one person is permitted to break the rules, others will also break the rules making it difficult to enforce the dress code. The dress code should be distributed to all employees and receipt should be acknowledged by a signature.

Employees should also be advised that they can request exemptions or accommodations as necessary. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits employer discrimination based on gender, race or religion so close attention must be paid to any provisions in the dress code that make a distinction between men and women or effect religious dress. Finally, state in the policy to whom employees should go to if they have questions about the dress code. Be sure those people, whether a Human Resources manager, supervisor or office manager, are prepared to answer questions about the dress code and to determine and enforce violations.

With a written, thorough and consistent dress code policy employers can ensure that their company won’t melt down in the heat of the summer!

As always, contact an attorney with any questions.

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