How do I implement a company dress code?

posted in: HR Advice | 1

By Melissa Walker


Suzanne Lucas, a decade-plus corporate human resources veteran known as the “Evil HR Lady,” said a dress code is needed once an employee other than a spouse or significant other is hired. The reason is simple: People are clueless as to what’s appropriate and not appropriate to wear to work.

A dress code should be in writing so it’s enforceable. Many template dress codes are available through an Internet search, but in general the code should address workplace appearance, clothing, grooming, natural and artificial scents, and hygiene, according to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). The code should explain the employer’s objective in creating it. SHRM’s website has suggested wording that can be as simple as a couple of sentences: (Your company) strives to maintain a functional workplace that is free of distractions and annoyances. The company requires employees to maintain a neat and clean appearance that is appropriate for the workplace setting and for the work being performed. Management will determine and enforce these guidelines for workplace-appropriate attire and grooming, as well as limit natural and artificial scents that could distract or annoy others.

The code needs to be specific so it addresses such loopholes as employees who consider new flip-flops “dress sandals,” and examples of “business casual” or inappropriate attire. The human resources society recommends explain “casual” or dress-down days and listing appropriate and inappropriate examples of clothing and shoes. It also suggests a definition of business attire and examples.

If the business requires employees to wear uniforms or special dress, this also needs to be in the code. The policy also should address reasonable accommodations for religious beliefs. In a provision of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission wrote: “If the dress code conflicts with religious practices, the employer must modify the dress code unless doing so would result in undue hardship.”

The human resources society recommends the policy also address dress during special situations such as holiday parties and other occasions, and during unusually hot or cold weather. Employees are still expected to maintain a neat appearance but may be allowed to dress more casually, which has already been outlined in the policy.

The policy also can address things such as hairstyles, tattoos, piercings, jewelry and other accessories. Lucas cautioned employers against banning something unless it truly affects the business or the employee is in contact with clients.

Business owners also need to consider the industry and job functions when writing a dress code. Appearances matter less with certain jobs. Dress codes should be department specific to take these situations into consideration.

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