Summertime is here and the temps are heating up. During Summer, many companies allow their employees to dress more casually, which can mean inappropriate and unprofessional dress. Companies can avoid potential problems by establishing clear dress code policies and providing clear training and communication on the issue.
Courts generally give employers significant latitude in establishing dress code policies. The key is to not implement a policy that would have a disparate impact on “protected class” employees — that is, based on race, gender, religion, age, national origin or disability status. (Other protected categories, such as pregnancy, citizenship, familial status, veteran status and genetic information are less likely to have dress code implications.)
What to consider when drafting a Summer dress code:
What is your general company culture like? Do clients expect a certain type of attire regardless of the season, or do you have a more casual philosophy in general?
What is the extent of the average employee’s interaction with your clients?
Will allowing more casual dress in the summer months result in safety issues? For instance, if you allow sandals to be worn, will there be additional opportunity for trips and falls, endangering your staff and potentially exposing your company to added liability?
Will changing your dress code be considered as sexual harassment in any way? Will this be perceived as an inequality issue?
Dress Code Basics
Summer-specific dress code issues typically involve judgments around how much skin is exposed and how professional employees look when they wear flip-flops, tank tops, and t-shirts. Maintaining your formal dress code policy fundamentally requires three things, beyond the actual standards themselves:
- The policy must exist in writing,
- Its purpose should be stated, and
- The implementation of the policy must be made clear.
The dress code policy can be incorporated into an employee handbook, but it doesn’t hurt also to highlight it on a regular basis. If you’re particularly concerned about possible violations, require employees to give you signed acknowledgements that they’ve read the policy and intend to adhere to it.
Discretion vs. Bright-line Rules
In the text provided by SHRM, management has the discretion over whether to send an employee home. That’s probably a good idea unless all of your employees live nearby and have the ability to quickly get home and back.
This sample text doesn’t, however, offer leeway on whether hourly employees will have their pay docked while they’re gone changing their clothes. Set your policy carefully depending on what you expect to happen. Sometimes docking employee pay results in backlash. Some companies’ policies state they won’t dock pay for a first-time violation, but they will if subsequent violations occur.
As with any other personnel policy, the less discretion it allows, the easier it is for the policy to be administered consistently. A more prescriptive policy can minimize the risk of appearing to single out particular individuals for punishment.
At the same time, your dress code policy can make distinctions based on job function. While you wouldn’t want employees in any department to dress provocatively, degrees of formality certainly can vary by department.
When it comes to describing your dress code standards, specificity is important. Employees inclined to push the limits can get creative. For example, one employee was known to violate a standard of skirt hems no shorter than four finger widths above the knee. She attempted to justify her violation by pointing out the standard didn’t rule out diagonal positioning of the fingers. At the same time, you can’t anticipate every contingency, so allow managers some discretion.
In order to preserve the reputation and professional environment of the workplace, it is wise to review your company dress code policies periodically and make adjustments as needed. Finally, as with other policies that involve possible disciplinary action, give employees a grievance mechanism if they believe they’ve been treated unfairly. Ensure that supervisors document all disciplinary actions related to dress code violations. That should help protect you if a repeat offender is ultimately terminated, and he or she responds with a discrimination claim. If you have questions regarding your policy, or any Payroll or Human Resources issues contact CertiPay for help.