Workplace Dress Codes: Wise Move or Potential HR Pitfall?

When companies implement a dress code for employees, they typically do so with the best of intentions. Unless you undertake this task with care, however, you could impact employee morale and affect your ability to attract top talent. You could also find yourself embroiled in a legal quagmire, if your code contains discriminatory requirements or if you fail to enforce it consistently.

Workplace dress codes

When Is a Workplace Dress Code Appropriate?

In most cases, companies require a more formal mode of dress for any employee who interacts with customers. As an alternative – depending on your business model – you could consider a uniform approach. For example, you could require in-person customer service staff to wear a branded polo shirt with khaki pants.

In more traditional professional services businesses, such as law firms, formal business attire remains the norm. But what happens when an employee violates the unspoken understanding of what constitutes business attire?

For those employers who deal in less formal business interactions, offering a casual dress code could be used as a recruiting tool, as many potential new hires might see this as a desirable benefit. But, if your employees do not interact with the public, how much can you (or should you) dictate guidelines for appropriate work attire and at what point could these guidelines become problematic for you?

What Can You Include in Your Workplace Dress Code?

You might mentally define appropriate work attire for your company as business casual. But does that term mean the same thing to every employee?

Legally, you have a bit of latitude in how you dictate appropriate work attire, as long as it does not discriminate against any group. Otherwise, you could face legal action for discrimination in the workplace. And, to a reasonable degree, you typically must make accommodations for religious considerations.

In most cases, you are best served to list specific items that are not appropriate for your workplace. This might include t-shirts, shorts, flip-flops, etc. It’s also a good idea to be specific about how violations of your dress code will be addressed.

Could a Company Dress Code Backfire?

If business owners and decision-makers aren’t careful, implementing and enforcing a dress code could become, at best, a human resources nightmare. At worst, the issue could turn into a legal minefield. The biggest risk you face is including any potentially discriminatory requirements. You should have business-specific justification for any dress requirements you institute, such as interaction with customers or safety concerns.

The way you enforce your dress code can also lead to potential problems. You must enforce your rules consistently and equally for all staff members. You must also tread carefully in how you deal with violations, especially for repeat offenders.

The safest way to implement an equitable attire policy is to consult with an HR specialist. As a professional employer organization (PEO), this is just one of the services that WTA, Inc. provides for our clients. Our legal department can help you determine the best approach for your company on this and other potentially volatile HR issues.

WTA, Inc. helps companies by handling every aspect of the human resources function, including payroll, benefits administration, recruiting, risk management and more. Contact us today to learn how our HR services can help your business become more productive and reduce your operating costs.