Recipe for Drama? Summertime, HR Protocols, and Your Dress Code
Workplace dress codes go back a long way, and we typically keep the dress code tradition alive for three distinct reasons. First, safety. In some workplaces, the dress code offers vital protection from heat, dangerous machinery, or the spread of toxins. Second, customer service. If employees will be interacting with clients, they need to look the part. Third (and most complicated), the dress code provides a workplace with a sense of dignity, respect, and order. It encourages employees to take their work and each other seriously, even if no customers will ever see them.
So what can you do when your dress code is enforced for reason number three and practical realities begin to interfere? When the summer heat rolls in, employees often don’t care as much about order and dignity as they do about their right to wear comfortable clothes that suit the season. Should you respond by cracking down? Maybe. But take these considerations into account first.
- If your dress code is making your employees genuinely uncomfortable, double check to make sure you’re not legally exposed in any way. If you are, it may be time for an adjustment.
- Be reasonable while maintaining the spirit of the law. Suits without jackets may be okay. But sneakers, fishnet tops, and short shorts probably aren’t. Pick your battles and be consistent and firm with your disciplinary decisions.
- When it comes to footwear, make a clear rule and stick with it. Don’t ban “sandals” or “flip flops” without defining exactly what you mean. Otherwise you’ll be dragged into an endless philosophical debate over a pair of 300 dollar thongs, and you have work to do.
- Keep an eye on fairness and potential gender bias. If you check the records and find that a disproportionate number of criticisms and punishments have been handed out to female employees, you have a problem. If your dress code isn’t gender neutral, it isn’t legitimate. This is true regardless of its legality.