July 1, 2011
Underdressed? Dress codes can help prevent sticky situations
The Associated Press
It’s an uncomfortable summertime moment: A female co-worker shows up for work in the shortest of shorts. Or a male staffer arrives wearing a tank top.
Dress-code problems aren’t confined to the summer months. But they do tend to be more frequent than in colder months, when everyone is covering up. If your company doesn’t have a dress code, now is a good time to implement or suggest one.
Chances are, most of us have a sense of how we should dress for work. But having a dress code will help avoid problems or resolve them easily.
It’s perfectly legal
A staffer in cutoffs may protest when told that he’s inappropriately dressed for work. But employers are allowed to require employees to wear certain kinds of clothes, and to ban other types from the workplace. Consider that uniforms are required in some jobs, and that some clothes can be forbidden because of safety issues.
Companies also are allowed to determine what kind of atmosphere they are trying to project, and to require employees to conform.
The law does require that a dress code be gender-neutral. That means that both sexes are being told to dress appropriately. And it’s against the law to discriminate against someone’s religious beliefs — for example, by banning turbans or dreadlocks that are worn for religious reasons.
The right impression
The biggest concern that most employers have when it comes to how staffers dress is the impression that customers have of the company. Many don’t want receptionists to have exposed bra straps and a very short skirt, or sales associates in T-shirts.
Some companies have different standards that depend on whether (and where) an employee meets with customers, says Rick Gibbs, a senior human-resources specialist with Insperity, a Houston-based HR provider. Someone who meets clients at a manufacturing firm may be in business-casual clothes. Someone in the warehouse may be in jeans and a polo shirt. And someone on an assembly line may be wearing construction-type clothes. That should be detailed in the dress code.
All in the details
Most successful dress codes are specific. Gibbs recommends listing what isn’t acceptable; for example, tank tops, shirts without collars, see-through fabrics, ripped or dirty jeans.
If “skirts that are too short” are banned, what constitutes too short? A dress code should provide the maximum number of inches above the knee where a skirt’s hem must fall.
Gibbs warns against building a new dress code around one staffer. Companies should take a step back and think about what’s appropriate for all employees, taking care to mention clothing typically worn by men and by women in order to avoid discrimination.
Enforcing the issue
If a co-worker has crossed the wardrobe line, let a supervisor know. Gibbs says managers should speak privately to their staffers who are dressing inappropriately, and remind them about the dress code and the reasons for it.
He says a successful policy indicates that those who violate it will be asked to change what they wear. If an employee resists, it may become a performance and disciplinary issue.
If the clothing culprit is a young person who has never had a job before, don’t assume that someone has given him or her advice about dressing properly for work. Gibbs suggests having a conversation with such staffers. Let them know the company wants them to be successful, and discuss what proper workplace clothing is or refer them to the dress code.
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