What Not to Wear: The Importance of Dress Code Policies

Are you noticing that your employees are coming to work dressed inappropriately for your business? Maybe they look as if they are on their way to the beach or an after-hours club. Perhaps you’ve even thought, “When did dressing for the gym or a good night’s rest become the new way to dress for work?” You aren’t alone.

By Jackie Clausnitzer, PHR, SHRM-CP

HR Services Partner

What Not to Wear:  The Importance of Dress Code Policies

Whatever the reason for wanting to create and enforce a dress code policy, by partnering with a Professional Employer Organization (PEO) such as Resourcing Edge, you can provide your employees with a policy that fits your business needs, reflects best practices, and is legally compliant.  The HR experts at Resourcing Edge will work with owners and business leaders to customize a perfect policy for your company and its employees.

You want to be an employee-centric company and expect your employees to dress appropriately, so why should you even have a dress code policy?  How important is it to your business to have a dress code?  Only you and your team can answer these questions, but here are some reasons that should be considered. 

Why should companies have and enforce a dress code? 

Your Customers

Companies need to portray a certain image to their customers.  Those employees that meet with the customers need to consistently present a professional image.  Sales employees that meet with customers outside of the office may be required to wear a jacket or dress pants.  This makes an impression on the customer.

Your Company Culture

Each company has its own culture.  The culture can be dependent upon the industry, the company size, the level of formality used by the business and other things that are introduced that affect it.   An athletic shoe company might have a dress code aimed at marketing their tennis shoes or clothing line.  Those working in a small office that typically does not meet with clients face-to-face, may have a blue-jean casual dress code.

Your Employees

All employers prefer that employees be appropriately groomed.  Personal hygiene needs to be enforced, otherwise the working environment may become uncomfortable and cause tensions.

Your Terminology

Employees want to dress more casually, but they are unsure of what is appropriate.  According to an OfficeTeam survey, 40 percent of employees say that they don’t always know if an article of clothing is office/work-appropriate.  Employees do not understand what is considered “Professional,” “Business Casual,” or “Office Casual.”  Not everyone interprets the same.  This is also thought to be one of the common pitfalls in creating a company dress code. 

How do dress codes create problems and how can a PEO help?

Creating different standards for men and women

Courts have commonly sided with employees where policies have outlined clothing based on sex.  Examples women are permitted to wear skirts, stockings, or open-toed shoes.  Men must wear pants (have their entire leg covered) and wear their hair short.  This could especially cause issues with the emergence of legal protections based on sexual orientation and transgender status.

Dress for honoring cultural tradition or religious purpose

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects all aspects of religious observance, practice, and belief.  Dress for religious practice is included under this protection.

Employee’s confusion

As earlier stated, employees do not always understand what is considered “Professional,” “Business Casual,” or “Office Casual.”  If you have decided to have a dress code policy, make sure your employees understand by including a definition of what is meant, and giving examples, or including pictures.

Non-enforcement of the dress code

The company dress code must be enforced fairly and consistently with all employees.  This is the same as any other policy that a company has in place.  Failure to be consistent and equitable can potentially lead to costly legal actions.

By partnering with a PEO, companies can depend on its HR expertise to design dress code policies that meet their business needs, represent HR practices, and are compliant with existing law.

If you would like to develop a dress code policy or update and/or check the compliance of your current policy, contact Resourcing Edge.

Jackie Clausnitzer, HR Services Partner at Resourcing Edge, has more than 25 years of HR experience gained at manufacturing and service companies.  She is certified as a Professional in Human Resources (PHR) and a SHRM Certified Professional (SHRM-CP).