Workplace Dress Codes: Setting Expectations

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As temperatures rise and the office starts to feel sparse with employees out on summer vacations, you may notice another physical change around the office- in how employees are dressed. While many organizations are already operating with relatively casual dress codes, summertime clothing choices can sometimes push the limits of those policies.

Endless Variations

The EEOC guidelines suggest that when establishing dress code guidelines, the standards remain the same within each job category. There are several notable exceptions to this rule and include accommodation requests from employees based on disability, religion, or national origin. These exceptions apply, even in cases where uniforms are worn, unless it would cause “undue hardship” for the employer.

There can certainly be discrepancies about dress code at any organization, but in some industries, this conversation is a simpler than in others. For example, healthcare providers, various service industries, and specific areas of manufacturing, often require uniforms, so clothing choice is largely pre-determined (again, except in the particular examples indicated by the EEOC). In still other professions, like law, the “uniform” of sorts is often equally straightforward, a suit.

However, if your organization falls in with the majority of employers, where business casual or casual dress is the accepted norm, making sure employees understand and follow the dress code can be more a bit more challenging. To avoid the uncomfortable conversations and conflicts that may arise, consider taking some time to remind employees what your organization considers work appropriate attire before it gets too warm outside.

Flexibility is Trending

According to the 2013-2014 Policies & Benefits Survey, most organizations that follow the “business casual” standard, only require this type of dress between 3-4 days a week on average. Those other 1-2 days out of the work week are left for more casual attire. This division of the dress code within the workweek is very much on par with the national sample as well.

In years past, this survey also found some variation in dress codes based on the season. A small proportion of organizations specifically granted more “casual” dress days during the summer months. However, in this year’s survey that seasonal differentiation seems to have virtually disappeared, suggesting that Northeast Ohio organizations are becoming increasingly flexible in their dress codes.

A well constructed, clearly defined dress code is important, but in the end, common sense also plays a role. For example, if your organization has “casual Fridays”, but a high powered executive from corporate is coming into the office for meetings next Friday, let employees know ahead of time that the expectation for that particular day has changed. The opposite scenario may also apply- if you are throwing a company picnic or having some other type of team building retreat, flip-flops and shorts may fit the bill. Again, just be sure everyone understands what is and is not acceptable. Employees and employers both have a role to play in keeping those lines of communication open and making sure that expectations around dress code are both set and met- no matter what the weather.