Dress Coded: What to Do When an Employee Dresses Inappropriately

Proper work attire depends entirely on the company. Some have a uniform that needs to be worn. Others have restrictions on colors. Some require a full suit. Others allow business casual. Regardless of the company type, there’s always a dress code of some kind.

And with a dress code come employees who will break that dress code. But what should you do about it?

Review the Dress Code

Before talking to an employee about their dress, look over the company dress code. Are all requirements necessary? Are all of the requirements legal? Anything that could be seen as discriminatory in the dress code, such as a requirement for all women to wear high heels or a restriction on beards, could be illegal.

The dress code shouldn’t require employees to violate religious beliefs or impose a heavier burden on members of a certain race or gender. Banning beards, for example, could be both considered both racial and religious discrimination. Any dress code that applies only to members of one gender, race, or religious group could also be discrimination.

It’s also important to make sure that the dress code violation is actually a violation and not just a personal preference. If an employee’s dress is against the dress code but isn’t actually unsafe or affecting their success at work, then perhaps the dress code should be updated.

Know Why the Dress Code Exists

If everything in the dress code is completely legal and nondiscriminatory, it’s important to know why it exists. Any employee who is violating the dress code may ask you why and having a good answer to that question can help prevent future infractions. For example, the answer may be simply that dressing in a certain way makes a good, professional impression on clients. For some companies, however, there may be safety reasons involved as well.

Send out a Dress Code Reminder

For first infractions, you may not want to draw attention directly to the employee in question. Try sending out a general reminder to everyone about the dress code and why it’s important. It’s possible there are other employees who could benefit from the reminder and if everyone receives the message, no one feels singled out. An employee who just didn’t realize that they’d broken the dress code can then self-correct.

Talk to the Employee

If a general reminder to all employees didn’t work to correct the dress code violation, then it’s time to talk to the offending employee personally. Some recommend having this talk privately while others suggest having a coworker sit in on the talk to avoid any accusations of harassment. Which is the best option depends on your company and staff members.

It’s important, however, to make sure that the talk is about how the dress code violation affects business. This framing shows the employee that the company and managers are looking out for their best interests and are trying to help them succeed.

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