If employees' summer attire begins to resemble a day at the beach rather than a day at the office, it is likely time to remind employees of your dress code policy. Having a clearly delineated dress code policy in place and ensuring that your employees adhere to it is important for several reasons. Not only do dress code violations create a less-than-professional workplace environment, but they also can compromise employees' health and safety.
The primary dress code issues employers face in the summer months concern overly casual and revealing clothing such as flip-flops, shorts and tank tops. Aside from the fact that this revealing clothing leaves uncovered tattoos or body piercings that remain covered during winter months (often viewed by others as unprofessional and inappropriate for a place of work), it also creates safety hazards. Open-toed shoes increase the likelihood that employees may slip or fall. And improper attire, such as tank tops or shorts, can create dangerous working conditions for employees who work in a manufacturing setting.
Having reasonable attire and appearance guidelines in place is also essential to avoid the appearance of workplace discrimination. In drafting such guidelines, however, employers should be sensitive to potential discrimination claims that might arise once the policy is put into place. For instance, women have successfully challenged policies that require them to wear uniforms while men are allowed to wear "professional dress." Another potentially problematic policy is one that prohibits women from wearing pants but allows men to do so. Policies prohibiting particular hairstyles and those requiring men to be clean-shaven have been challenged as well. Employers also need to remember to accommodate employees' religious attire and appearance. For example, a policy prohibiting head coverings could be discriminatory if it does not allow for religious exceptions. Though employers typically must accommodate the dress code policy exception requests discussed above, if the employer can show the exception would create an undue hardship, it likely does not have to accommodate the request. Employers also must be careful not to retaliate against employees who request accommodations or who complain that the dress code infringes on their civil rights.
To ensure your company's dress code is followed by employees and properly enforced by managers and supervisors, it is vital that the policy be memorialized in writing and circulated companywide. If this crucial step is not taken, not only may employees have a less than clear understanding of the rules they are expected to follow, but managers and supervisors could be forced to make subjective judgment calls that could result in employees claiming they have been subject to discriminatory treatment.