Take a Look at Your Dress Code

Summertime can affect the workplace in many ways, including shorter workweeks, more vacation time, and company picnics. Warm weather also means flip-flops, shorts and low cut tops. Is this the look you want for your business?

Take a look at your dress code. (You do have a dress code as part of your policies, don't you?) Over the past few years, there has been a shift toward casual dress for the office. If you permit casual dress, how would you define ”casual”?

If you expect your employees to follow your guidelines, you must be specific. For example, if just say you allow jeans on Friday an employee may reasonably believe that includes jean shorts. If you allow sandals, you may wish to prohibit flip-flop sandals. If you forbid all types of sandals, explain the safety reasons involved.

It is certainly acceptable to have a separate summer dress code policy. Some companies have a dress shirt requirement from September through June but allow more casual sport shirts and even t-shirts during July and August. To avoid confusion circulate a reminder after Labor Day that it's "back to dress shirts.” Short sleeves and sleeveless tops may also reveal tattoos that were not visible with winter clothing. One solution is a uniform. A simple shirt or lab jacket with a company logo would suffice.

Generally, federal or state law does not regulate dress codes, so the choices are yours. There are, however, factors that an employer must consider if it allows casual dress but prohibits certain ethnic attire. Prohibiting ethnic dress might lead to complaints of religious or national origin discrimination. Your policy should also be gender neutral.

You also have the right to maintain distinct and separate requirements for different are as of your business. Employees working in a front reception area and greeting the public may be subject to more specific rules than those working in a stockroom, computer room or warehouse. If the dress code is a matter of complying with health and safety standards, the policy should indicate those safety reasons. As with all policies, violations of the dress code should be documented. A verbal counseling is appropriate to let the employee know what he or she wore that violated your policy and explain the reasons for having that policy.

Whatever your dress policies, they must be clear, communicated in writing, and uniformly applied.