With a long hard winter behind us and summer temperatures finally arriving in Northeast Ohio, now is an ideal time to take a good look at your dress code and perhaps provide your employees with a little refresher as well.
You’ll probably want to touch on the eternal flip-flops or no flip-flops in the workplace debate, but enforcing dress code goes far beyond weather related clothing choices to some much more serious considerations that could have legal and safety related implications for your organization and your employees.
Depending on your industry, typically healthcare, various service industries, and many manufacturers, clothing choice is largely pre-determined based upon the uniform or safety equipment that is required to be worn on the job. While this simplifies the conversation around dress code to some degree, the EEOC does suggest standardizing the dress code policy within each job category. Not only does this help keep your policy in line with the EEOC guidance, but it also helps minimize a potential source of conflict between employees or between employee and employer.
Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule and dress code is no different. Even in cases where uniforms are “required” accommodation requests from employees based on disability, religion, or national origin must be honored unless it would cause “undue hardship” for the employer.
If possible, the accommodation may take somewhat of a hybrid format, such as an employee wearing the required uniform with the addition of the requested religious garment. However, if the safety of the employee is on the line, employers have much more leeway. For example, requests to allow loose clothing or beards, even if worn for religious reasons, can be denied by employers out of concern for safety or hygiene.
Although there are some industries, e.g. banking and law, where suits are still the assumed norm, most organizations are providing their employees with a bit more flexibility in their dress codes.
According to the 2013-2014 Policies & Benefits Survey, most organizations follow a “business casual” standard, for most of the week and leave a day or two open for more casual attire. Some employers report pairing these alternative dress code options with a social service project. The most common example cited is to have employees make a small monetary or other type of donation in order to qualify for “jeans Friday” or other dress down option.
Communication & Common Sense
So whether you’re just trying to decide how to implement a “jeans Fridays” program or trying to stay in compliance with EEOC guidelines, clear, consistent communication with employees (plus a little common sense) is key. With many warm days still ahead, if your organization does have a more relaxed summer dress code, be sure to let employees know ahead of time if expectations change for any reason.
On the flip-side, the company picnic may not be the best place for employees to come dressed in a full suit. Just be sure everyone understands what is and is not acceptable for each scenario and hopefully your employees can all enjoy a warm, comfortable, and conflict free summer.
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