There is no federal law governing employee dress codes. Because of that, employers are allowed to implement dress code guidelines they feel are appropriate, as long as they do not discriminate on the basis of gender, race, religion, disability or any other federally protected status.
And in many workplaces dress codes are more casual than ever – and what were once major taboos like jeans, stubble, messy buns, tattoos, etc. have become increasingly commonplace in the modern workplace.
Rather than attempting to create a strict atmosphere of fancy blouses tucked into long skirts and dress shirts with ties, many employers are now open to informal attire and personal fashion trends. And it can be a boost to employee productivity, as research has shown that when employees feel freer to express themselves via their style the office 'happiness index' goes up and so does productivity.
However, you may not want to allow employees so much freedom that they look sloppy in a professional office environment.
So what's fair? What makes for a good balance between ensuring employees look professional and that they still feel like an individual? Here are some points to consider when creating and enforcing a dress code policy.
1. Collect employee feedback
Like any rule or policy, you need to be as straightforward as possible with employees, while remaining fair and open to feedback. There's no need to be too strict with a dress code, unless employees are dealing with clients and handling many professional face-to-face tasks outside the office where first impressions count.
Employers who are creating a dress code policy need to be clear, concise, consistent and flexible and to communicate expectations in an efficient manner. By doing so, your employees have a voice in the matter and avoid any misunderstandings.
2. Be mindful of everyone
Genders, cultures and personal preferences all come into play in fashion, something employers should be aware of.
Allowing employees to be themselves while still dressing appropriately for the position they serve in the company and their role in their industry is key.
Piercings, tattoos, haircuts and clothing are a way to express our personalities, but (they) could also be a reflection of our culture and religion. Today's workforce is more diverse, and dress codes, or lack thereof, play a part in fostering a culture of acceptance.
3. Have a plan for dealing with violations
There will be instances where an employer must deal with dress code policy violations. If this happens, the situation needs to be handled with care so you don't accidentally invite a discrimination lawsuit.
As an employer, listen to what your employees have to say and take time to understand why it occurred. Be mindful of any discrimination elements, take each violation on a case-by-case basis and consider whether disciplinary action is necessary given the circumstances.