Pitfalls to Having a Strict Dress Code Policy in the Workplace


If you want to create a safe, professional workplace, you may want to set some ground rules on what employees can wear to work. As an employer, you are within your rights to create a dress code policy. However, you need to be careful with how you define, communicate and implement this policy.

You need to make sure that you do not discriminate against protected classes of employees. You also need to consider the more intangible benefits of a flexible dress code, including staff morale.

Here are five possible pitfalls to having a strict dress code policy in your workplace.

1. Don’t Restrict Women’s Fashion Choices More Than Men

Females have a wider variety of clothes to choose from, so you may inevitably have a few more rules about typical female clothes like high heels or short skirts.

However, if you create a strict dress code which appears to disproportionately affect women more than men, you run the risk of a gender discrimination suit.

Employment lawyers also recommend avoiding dress codes which require women to dress in ways that encourage stereotypes, like making them wear tops with plunging necklines.

2. Be Mindful of Religious Reasons for Certain Wardrobe Choices

Some fashion choices are expressions of an employee’s faith, such as turbans for Sikhs, hajib for Muslim women or yarmulkes for Jewish men. You are legally prohibited to prevent employees from wearing such symbols of their religion.

Federal law demands that employers make “reasonable accommodation” for the religious requirements of their employees unless the accommodation would result in an “undue hardship.” If the long hajib could get caught in heavy machinery and cause a danger to the employee, the employer would have to find another job for the employee to do which accommodated both her faith and their work requirements.

3. It’s OK to Make Rules on Attire for Safety Reasons

As described above, it is permissible for employers to create stricter dress codes when the workplace has potential dangers. A construction site might require covered footwear like boots. Hard hats are a necessary precaution as well.

You cannot arbitrarily make rules about your staff’s fashion choices without a logical connection to your business objective. On the other hand, you can ask people to dress in a way that your clients expect if you work in a conservative field like banking or law.

It is fine to ask that protective clothing be worn by employees. It’s reasonable for employers to manage risk in the workplace with common sense rules.

4. Employee Morale Can Suffer When Codes Are Too Strict

If you want to keep employees happy at their jobs, you need to be careful about imposing too many rules. If your dress code makes sense and is communicated clearly, most workers will understand the need for limits.

On the other hand, if you try to control every aspect of your employees’ lives, they may start to resent your workplace. In addition to health insurance and other tangible benefits, giving employees the autonomy to wear what they want within reason can be a benefit as well.

5. Productivity Improves with a More Flexible Dress Policy

If you can allow your staff to choose what they like to wear, studies find that their productivity improves. So long as people stay within your company’s brand and image, and so long as they are safe, they are going to be more likely to work hard and stay longer with the company if they can wear what they want.

A Rational Dress Code Policy Protects Your Employees and Your Business

An overly strict dress code may raise more problems for your business than it’s worth, including making you vulnerable for lawsuits. Keep your employees happy and your risk low by allowing them some flexibility in what they wear to work.

Interested in learning how to craft a dress code for your business? Contact the professionals at GIGA Solutions. Our PEO and HR Outsourcing Brokerage helps business owners gain access to guidance and HR support, assistance with employment law, and employment liability coverage and management.

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