How To Develop an Effective Dress Code

Dress Codes - People in office

Can I make my employee remove his nose piercing? Can I require dresses? What if my employee smells horrible? 

These and other questions frequently arise when companies are developing effective dress codes. A thorough dress code that respects each employee’s judgment and comfort can be challenging for employers to come up with on the fly — let’s answer some of your most common dress code questions!

Can my dress code forbid piercings and tattoos?

Company policies may prohibit piercings and tattoos that conflict with the company’s brand, impart offensive, hostile, or discriminatory messages, or create safety risks such as jewelry being caught in machinery. In some instances, though, jewelry or tattoos may be a meaningful part of the employee’s religion. Prohibiting jewelry worn for religious reasons may be perceived as discrimination against an employee’s Title VII rights.

As with any dress code question, perceived violations of the policy should be taken on a case-by-case basis to determine whether the variation is protected by Title VII or would truly harm the company’s image or safety record. 

As clothing options change to accommodate the rising temperatures, summertime can bring new challenges regarding the dress code. It serves as an opportunity to revisit guidelines and communicate expectations to employees on how they can alter their work clothes for the summer months. 

Can my dress code require that females wear dresses, skirts, makeup, high heels, or other items typically worn by women?

Any company policy that requires an employee to subscribe to gender stereotypes, including stereotypes of how people think a woman or man should look or dress, may violate Title VII protections against discrimination based on gender. 

While companies may have specific standards that need to be addressed, a too-strict dress code can lead to decreased employee morale. Companies should consider alternative policies that do not require specific articles of gender-specific clothing. An example may be a policy that requires a generally well-groomed and professional appearance for employees interacting with the public.

Can I require my employees to have good hygiene, or what if an employee complains about a coworker’s foul odor?

While your employee handbook can include a policy recommending good hygiene and cleanliness, Nextep recommends that you tread carefully in enforcing the policy for the following reasons:

  • An employee’s economic circumstances may prevent them from replacing worn or old clothing.
  • An employee from another country may eat ethnic food that imparts certain body odors. Requiring that an employee stop eating ethnic food may violate Title VII, which prohibits discrimination based on national origin.
  • Certain medical conditions or disabilities may create body odors beyond the employee’s control. In this instance, employers may need to engage in an interactive process to determine if a reasonable accommodation can be made per the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Complaints should be taken seriously, though, as poor hygiene can create health risks, and fragrances such as perfumes and candles can aggravate symptoms for employees suffering from asthma or allergies. Fragrance sensitivity may also require reasonable accommodation under the ADA, so refusing to address an employee’s complaints about a coworker or to create a fragrance-free zone could potentially violate the complainant’s rights. Solutions can include desk reassignment, ensuring good office ventilation, and possibly investing in air purifiers.

In dealing with employees who may have poor hygiene, employers should maintain discretion and sensitivity. 

Nextep Weekly Tip Signup

Developing a dress code

If you don’t have a dress code or need to make modifications to a current policy, be sure to work with your HR rep to iron out the details. Here are some suggestions to get you started: 

  • Decide how detailed you want your dress code to be. Often, companies find success with a dress code that allows for interpretation and employee autonomy, such as a policy that simply states the need to present one’s self professionally and leaves interpretation up to the individual employee.
  • Determine any safety needs for the workspace and the impact those might have on the dress code, such as the need for closed-toed shoes. If clothing needs to accommodate safety concerns, be specific in the policy and explain to employees why the policy is necessary to create a safe environment.
  • Communicate the dress code to employees upon hire, policy revisions, and as a refresher throughout their employment. Provide a central copy of the policy and employee handbook that can be easily accessed. Be sure to obtain signed acknowledgments from all employees indicating that they have read and understand the latest version of the company handbook.
  • Dress code guidelines and other important handbook policies should be reviewed annually to ensure compliance with the latest laws and that the company’s needs are addressed. Employers must ensure that dress code and hygiene policies do not create an oppressive company culture or discriminate against an employee’s religion, gender, nationality, or other Title VII-protected areas. 
  • Be respectful of the fact that the employees in your workforce are adults and are capable of dressing themselves without excessive company interference or direction.  
  • If one-on-one coaching is needed to address clothing-related concerns, managers can be successful by sticking to the facts, limiting the discussion to the employee’s compliance with the guidelines outlined in the policy, and refraining from any fashion commentary. If the employee’s manager is a member of the opposite gender, it is recommended that a witness of the same gender who is of a higher rank than the employee be present during the conversation.

Also on Nextep

Your Guide to DOL’s Latest Guidance on Telework, Lactation Breaks, and FMLA Eligibility for Remote Employees Are you an employer of employees who telework, or employees who needs breaks for lactation? Then you’ll want to read this update! The US Department of Labor (DOL) recently released Field Assistance Bulletin (FAB) No. 2023-1, which covers several […]
Read more
Find the Best Candidates You may be recruiting new employees to ensure full staffing for the months ahead. Here are 3 ways to find and recruit top talent for your company. 1. Use technology Start with the most straightforward recruiting solution: post an ad online. Today’s online job posting tools go beyond the average resume […]
Read more
Rest Up! For Illinois Workers, ODRISA is Now Law Beginning in 2023, The One Day Rest In Seven Act (ODRISA) allows Illinois employees the right to take one day off in seven, plus breaks during a long workday.  Here’s a breakdown of the basics: Employees must get a minimum of 24 hours of rest every […]
Read more
Starting in 2023, Illinois workers have expanded job-protected bereavement leave under the Family Bereavement Leave Act (FBLA). Let’s dig into the details. FBLA allows eligible employees to take up to 10 work days of unpaid leave following the death of a family member. Specifically, they are allowed time for any of the events covered by […]
Read more
How to Ask the Right Things, Plus 25 Sample Job Interview Questions When searching for the right employee to join your team, job interview questions are essential in narrowing down an employer’s candidate pool and allowing top candidates to showcase their innovation, ideas, and goals.  But sometimes, it’s even more important to consider how you […]
Read more
Asking about criminal history is risky business. Here’s what to do instead. You may be breaking the law if your job application includes a checkbox asking the candidate if they’ve ever been convicted of a crime. Banning this question during the application process, sometimes referred to as “ban the box,” gives people with criminal histories […]
Read more
Your medical leave could qualify for paid time off if you work in Colorado.  We’re familiar with the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), allowing qualified employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave to care for themselves or a family member during certain medical or family events. But the FAMLI program takes this coverage […]
Read more
Asking about salary history may be banned in your state. “So, tell me about your salary history at your current job.” It’s a typical job interview question, often used by recruiters to help gauge whether the candidate would be satisfied with the salary offered at their company. Sometimes, though, the question can help them determine […]
Read more
If you don’t have transparent pay, you may be legally obliged to do it soon.   California is the latest of several states to mandate transparent pay in job postings.  When advertising a job vacancy, California businesses with 15 or more employees must now show a salary range that the employee may expect to earn […]
Read more
Regardless of the turnover rate, every company at some point has faced the struggle of employee recruitment. Selecting the right candidate for your workforce is tough, and there are many factors to consider.  The action items below can provide your company with tactics to minimize risk and help ensure you hire the right person to […]
Read more
The new year brings both new resolutions and state minimum wage and tax changes. We’ve compiled what employers need to know to stay compliant and prepare your 2023 budget! Minimum Wage Several states are increasing their minimum wage. As a reminder, when federal and state or local payroll laws differ, the employer must adhere to […]
Read more
How do you handle employee promotions? When promoting one of your star employees to a management or supervisory position, companies should take the time to train and help the manager adjust to their new role.  An employee’s relationship with their immediate supervisor is one of the top five factors in job satisfaction, so a new […]
Read more

Download Our App