We are going to discuss a workplace dress code and how it can impact your business. Over the past two decades, the standards for workplace dress have changed for many companies and positions.
Even “dress-down” Fridays have given way to an era in which “business casual” attire is generally acceptable every day in many offices. This more relaxed feel might leave you confused about whether and how to set dress codes in your workplace.
You can’t always leave it up to your employees’ good judgment. Your idea of “casual” may mean something entirely different from theirs, and the office is not an ideal place for a conflict over dress code.
You might consider implementing a dress code that gives your employees the guidance they need and sets standards that are in line with your company image and in compliance with the law.
Here are a few do’s and don’ts to keep in mind when implementing a dress code.
3 Dress Code Do's:
Communicate the dress code in a clear and unambiguous manner. It should be part of your employee handbook.
Specify when formal business attire is required, and clarify any areas that might be ambiguous. For example, will you allow sandals or t-shirts on “dress-down” Fridays?
Explain how the policy will be enforced.
3 Dress Code Don'ts:
In general, federal law allows an employer to establish a dress code which applies to all employees or employees within certain job categories. However, those employers that are subject to the laws enforced by the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission must comply with certain requirements, including:
A dress code must not treat some employees less favorably because of their national origin. For example, a dress code that prohibits certain kinds of ethnic dress, but otherwise permits casual dress, would treat some employees less favorably because of their national origin.
If the dress code conflicts with an employee's religious practices and the employee requests an accommodation, the employer must modify the dress code or permit an exception to the dress code unless doing so would result in undue hardship. Similarly, if an employee requests an accommodation to the dress code because of his disability, the employer must modify the dress code or permit an exception to the dress code, unless doing so would result in undue hardship.
Employers may also be subject to state-specific nondiscrimination requirements, so be sure any dress code you implement complies with applicable state laws.
Uniforms present their own set of challenges. Generally, if an employer requires that employees wear a particular color, such clothing would not be a uniform. However, if a specific type and style of clothing is required, or if clothing containing the employer’s emblem or logo must be worn at work, such clothing would generally be considered a uniform. The federal Fair Labor Standards Act does not allow uniforms to be included as wages. If you require your employees to pay for their own uniforms, that cost can’t reduce their pay below the federal minimum wage or cut into overtime pay.
As you draft your company’s dress code, it’s a good idea to consult with an employment law attorney. Legal counsel can help you comply with any state-specific laws, and also identify hazards and issues unique to your workplace that might mandate the use of personal protective equipment in your dress code. For more information on dress codes and policies, check out the U.S. Small Business Administration website.
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