This week we continue our series on Essential HR Policies. Places of business that have a particular standard of appearance (or a dress code) for employees should have these standards in writing. This can be a sensitive area that often invites claims of discrimination—especially if some employees are allowed to bend the rules. It’s crucial that you have sound business reasons for your business’s particular employee dress and appearance policies.
What Is a Dress Code or Appearance Policy?
A dress code or appearance policy is a document, usually contained in the employee handbook, that specifies what is appropriate for employees to wear to work and other standards of appearance. Dress codes vary from company to company, especially in different industries. Some industries, such as the medical field, might have a customary dress code, i.e. employees are expected to wear scrubs. But a legal firm might require that employees dress professionally to ensure they make a good impression on visiting clients. And a manufacturing company might require that employees wear protective clothing such as steel-toed shoes, hard hats, and other safety gear. What is considered appropriate in one industry may be highly inappropriate in another.
When you create a dress code policy for your small business, the policy should align with your company culture. If you operate a more formal office, you might reasonably expect employees to adopt business formal attire. But if your place of business is more fun and casual, business casual might be acceptable. You might even opt for “casual Fridays.” Whatever standard you adopt for your small business, you should also consult with legal counsel to minimize the risk of potential employment discrimination or other legal claims.
Is It Legal to Have a Dress Code Policy or Set Standards for Employee Appearance?
In general, employers in Ohio are allowed to regulate the way their employees look and dress, as long as the policies do not end up discriminating against certain employees. At some places of business, for example, employees might be required to wear a uniform to give everyone a similar appearance. What a dress code policy cannot do is impose heavier requirements on an employee because of their gender, race, religion, or cultural background. Dress code policies that violate an employee’s rights under the Equal Employment Opportunity Act (EEOC) could be deemed illegal.
What Are the Elements of a Dress Code Policy?
Company dress code policies should include the following elements:
Dress codes should be inclusive and avoid bias. This is easier said than done because people have unconscious biases that affect others. It’s crucial to confront those unconscious biases when drafting a dress code policy. When drafting an appearance policy, consider:
If you need help drafting or updating your employment policies, please click below to schedule a consultation.