Yes, Your Company Does Need a Dress Policy: Part 1

A formal dress policy has many positive benefits.  It communicates a business focus and employees are perceived as intelligent by customers.  However, the disadvantages are that employees may be perceived as too superior to customers (if they’re wearing a suit and the customer is in jeans) and such a formal policy may be inappropriate in several business settings.  Whereas a casual policy can be perceived as a perk by employees, your business image may suffer.  Moreover, research found that when a casual policy was the norm there was greater tardiness and absenteeism among employees, as well as increased use of foul language in the workplace.  In developing a dress policy follow these tips:

  • When putting together a team to formulate the company dress policy include employees at all levels.  This will aid in developing one that is comprehensive in scope.
  • Understand all aspects of your business operations, is safety an issue?  For example, if on a construction site, are steel tip shoes necessary to ensure that feet are protected?  As well, are earring or hair length requirements necessary to avoid getting caught in the equipment?
  • Understand what has been a problem regarding dress at your business and address it in the dress policy.  If an employee’s hygiene has been a problem spell out what is acceptable for your business.
  • Know clearly what your business stands for and your competitive advantage.  Be able to identify the different contact/touch points that employees have with customers, suppliers and the public.
  • Be clear on what is acceptable and unacceptable regarding clothing, accessories and hygiene.  Give examples of clothing items that are appropriate and those that are not.
  • Understand federal rulings on what is allowed by law.  In the US the courts have ruled that employers may enforce “reasonable appearance rules even if they prohibit the expression of cultural or ethnic values if the rules are job related and applied consistently.”  For example, banning ponytails for men but allowing it for women is discriminatory as is banning facial hair or headwear that is irrespective of religious beliefs. As well, banning facial hair is discriminatory against African American males due to problems related to shaving that is not commonly found with other races or ethnic groups. Moreover, it is prohibited to require an employee to wear a sexually provocative uniform or for women to dress in a feminine way such as wearing make-up or skirts. Be sensitive to implied or explicit policies that show favoritism to one group over another by race, gender, ethnicity or disability.
  • Delineate the steps to be taken when the dress policy is not followed. Know what can and cannot be done and what you are willing to do to enforce it.  Usually, the first infraction is a written warning given to the employee on the day that the item is worn. Each additional infraction should be of greater consequence to the employee. However it is enforced each infraction should be documented in the employee file.
  • Consider implementing the new dress policy on a three month trial basis.
  • Once the dress policy is finalized communicate it to all employees and make sure that it is part of the company handbook.  New employees should be knowledgeable with the policy once they are hired.  Consider having employees sign off on the dress policy that they will follow it.

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About vseitz

Marketing Professor at California State University, San Bernardino and author of "I Don't Wear A Suit."

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