Summer brings to all of us a spirit of relaxation, of freedom, and of fun. While work ethics remain strong (hopefully), attitudes may change regarding issues such as dress codes. The already wide latitude available under many “casual attire” policies can be stretched further by employees wearing dresses with shorter hemlines, jeans with “fashionable” holes, Hawaiian-style shirts, tank tops, flip-flops, and other revealing or “super-casual” clothes. Do you go with the flow or take a hard-line approach?
Like all employment policies, dress codes are written to inform employees of the employer’s workplace expectations. The most effective policies are those that provide clear guidance to employees. However, particularly when it comes to dress codes that approve “business casual” attire, summertime causes many employees to focus on the “casual” aspect rather than the “business” aspect. “Business casual” generally refers to dressing comfortably yet professionally and neatly. Employees’ broad interpretation of the dress code policy during the summer months can create problems for employers. For one, the existence of more revealing clothes increases the risk of inappropriate comments and other conduct that can potentially give rise to claims of sexual harassment. Moreover, some employees might be offended by the revealing nature of some summer wear. Another concern among many organizations is that a relaxed approach to employees’ attire could lead to an unprofessionally relaxed approach to customer service, collaboration among employees, and other aspects of work. These problems would adversely affect public image and workplace relationships. What can you do to reduce the risk of such problems? Keep these guidelines in mind:
- Decide whether your current dress code policy needs more detail to provide employees with proper guidance about what is and is not acceptable during the summer months. If necessary, define “business casual” and, if appropriate, prohibit employees from wearing T-shirts, shorts, flip-flops, and other overly-casual attire.
- Clearly communicate the dress code policy and the reasons behind it. If flip-flops, cutoff shorts, and T-shirts are not appropriate in your workplace, state that in a professional written memo and inform employees during staff meetings.
- Remind employees of your organization’s policy against harassment. In doing so, it can be helpful to specify that comments about an employee’s clothing constitute inappropriate conduct that violates the policy.
- Enforce the dress code in a consistent manner. Make sure that employees know the consequences for non-compliance.
- Notwithstanding the detailed nature of the policy, application of the dress code should be flexible enough to account for cultural or religious obligations of some employees.
For any company that values a positive public image and professionalism among its employees, a dress code makes good business sense. Proper implementation of a sufficiently detailed policy will help you navigate the additional dress code challenges that come with summer.
About the Author: Monks is a recognized expert in the field of employment law, particularly difficult issues faced by employers and employees. He is a past president of the San Diego Society for Human Resource Management and a member of the National Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). Monks has litigated cases in the areas of employment law, public entity defense, insurance bad faith and personal injury. He has successfully resolved disputes involving claims of wrongful termination, harassment, discrimination, defamation, breach of contract and Labor Code violations. He has spoken and written extensively on employment and labor issues and has been published in the San Diego Daily Transcript Law Journal, Employment Practices Liability Consultant and Los Angeles Daily Journal.