The summer sun is finally here, and employees across the country are rolling up their sleeves and perhaps even wearing tank tops, shorts, halter dresses, shoes with no socks, or flip-flops to work. But are they exposing more skin, tattoos, and/or piercing than is appropriate?
Workplace attire is a rising issue among most employers. How the employees dress and present themselves to clients can have an impact on your business. In fact, it can even affect your employee's health and safety.
While conservative workplace attire has been the norm for many years, employers have relaxed dress codes in an effort to perk up morale and improve employee retention. Casual dress codes are more prevalent in the workplace in response to employees' requests for relaxed, flexible work environments. In fact, according to a 2013 Society for Human Resource Management employee benefits survey, 23% of organizations now allow casual seasonal dress.
As the summer temperatures start to rise, now is the appropriate time to remind your employees about what is permitted when it comes to the summer dress code policy.
The Legal Basics of Dress Codes
It comes as a surprise to most employers that discrimination laws may limit your choices on what is appropriate workplace dress for your organization. This means that you have wide discretion when it comes to setting appearance standards, so long as they do not violate an employee's religious or ethnic beliefs, practices, or physical disability.
For example, you may enforce regulations such as those barring tattoos or piercings. Although tattoos and piercings may be examples of employee self-expression, they are not usually a form of religious or racial expression and hence not restricted under the federal discrimination laws.
However, certain dress codes and appearance restrictions may be termed discriminatory if they interfere with an employee's observance of religious practices such as head coverings, or target a particular group of employees such as women, those who experience physical disabilities, or minorities.
As an employer, you need to consider and protect your business against discrimination charges by creating HR solutions that have legal justification.
Addressing the Summer Dress Code Issue
Can your business's dress code prohibit jeans, shorts, short skirts, t-shirts with logos or advertising, halter dresses, tight-fitting clothes, exercise attire, flip-flops? Short answer--Yes. Even the most casual businesses expect their employees to use common sense in selecting business attire no matter what the weather. Here are four points to include in your dress code policy:
- State your business justification for the dress code policy
- a. Build a professional and identifiable appearance to the customers and the public
- b. Limit distractions caused by inappropriate dressing, as well as create a positive work environment
- c. Ensure health and safety for the employees
Be sure to set appropriate--and specific--parameters that define warm-weather attire to prevent sloppy appearances. Your policy and expectations should be clear. Also, if your business does observe casual dress day, specify the designated days.
Many employers who have policies on these issues limit such employees from contact with the public. Another solution is to require that tattoos be covered and/or piercings be removed during work hours.
Be ready to answer any employee questions regarding dress codes, as well as identify when violations occur and how to handle those violations. While it is ultimately up to the organization's culture to determine what summer dress code is suitable, good HR solutions, guidelines, and general parameters around what is appropriate are important.
Margaret Jacoby, SPHR, is the founder and president of MJ Management Solutions, a human resources consulting firm that provides small businesses with a wide range of virtual and onsite HR solutions to meet their immediate and long-term needs. From ensuring legal compliance to writing customized employee handbooks to conducting sexual harassment training, businesses depend on our expertise and cost-effective human resources services to help them thrive. This article first appeared on the MJ Management Solutions blog.