Dress Code Policy

Author: Jason Habinsky, Haynes & Boone

When to Use This Policy

The employer's dress code policy should be included in the employee handbook and distributed to all employees upon commencement of employment. Employees should be required to acknowledge in writing that they have received and understand the dress code policy. This will ensure that they comply with the policy and that no employees claim that they did not understand what was included in the policy.

Before creating a dress code policy, an employer should think about the image that it seeks to project because the manner in which employees dress will impact that image. Some employers may want to adopt a business casual dress code policy, while others may want employees to wear traditional business clothing at all times.

Customizable Policy


Dress Code Policy


[Enter Employer Name] would like for the attire that employees wear to work to complement a workplace environment which is professionally operated, efficient, orderly, and pleasant. Enforcement of this policy is the responsibility of Human Resources and supervisory personnel. [Enter Employer Name] reserves the right to change, extend, revise, revoke, or continue this policy at its discretion. This policy is intended to be read with any other specific dress code policies that the employer has published.

Any requests for assistance in administering or interpreting this dress code policy should be directed to [Enter Appropriate Individual or Department].

  • Neat and Well-Groomed - During working hours, employees should appear neat and professional at all times. Employees are expected to be suitably attired and well groomed, and to ensure that that their clothing is clean, ironed, and not torn, ripped, or stained.
  • Professional Attire - Employees should use common sense and good judgment in determining what to wear to work. Generally, if the employee is doubtful about some clothing, it is not appropriate. The attire that is appropriate for work include:
    • Slacks
    • Dress Shirts with buttons or collars for men
    • Blouses for women
    • Dresses, or skirts of an appropriate length for women
    • Dress shoes and socks or stockings
  • Prohibited Attire - Some attire is unacceptable for work at any time. The following list provides some examples, although it is not a complete list:
    • Any clothing, jewelry, or tattoos that contain an offensive word, message or slogan or picture directed a race, sexual orientation, gender, age, religion, disability, or is otherwise considered to be offensive or harassing in some way, is not permitted. However, employees are not prohibited from wearing clothing containing messages or slogans in connection with protected concerted activity and protest of employee wages, hours and working conditions.
    • Cutofffs or shorts
    • Gym wear or beach wear
    • Clothing that reveals the employee's underwear
    • Spandex or Lycra
    • Tank tops, tube tops, halter tops, or shirts with spaghetti straps
    • Off the shoulder tops
    • Evening wear
    • Sweatshirts or sweatpants
    • Miniskirts
    • Sandals or flip-flops
    • Lack of underwear
    • Any clothing that reveals the employee's stomach, full back, cleavage or chest, or otherwise revealing attire
  • Special Accommodations - Every effort will be made to reasonably accommodate employees with a disability or with religious beliefs that may make it difficult for that employee to comply fully with the dress code policy. Employees should contact their supervisor to request such a reasonable accommodation. Supervisors will work the employees to develop a reasonable accommodation to meet the employee's specific needs while complying to the greatest extent possible with the general policy of [Enter Employer Name].
  • Job Specific Concerns - This dress code policy is a general guideline, but employees should take into consideration any job specific safety concerns or requirements. Employees who regularly lift machinery or heavy materials should not wear dangling clothing or jewelry that may get caught in machinery and should wear comfortable, slip-resistant, close-toed shoes at all time. Employees who are working in the health industry or with food may also have follow further health requirements like wearing hairnets or gloves when performing specific tasks.
  • NLRA Activity - When applicable protected concerted activity covered by the NLRA or the particular collective bargaining agreement is not prohibited by this policy.
  • Disciplinary Measures - Most of this dress code is left to the employee's personal discretion but supervisors have the right to determine the appropriateness of clothing. Generally, if an employee has any doubt about something, the employee should either not wear the clothing, or should speak to a supervisor before wearing it. Any employee who violates this policy for the first time will be warned, counseled, and sent home to change clothing. Non-exempt employees will have this time charged to their accrued personal days. Subsequent violations of this policy may lead to increased discipline, up to, and including, termination.

Tips

Beyond the copy that is provided to all employees, supervisors should also post the Dress Code Policy in visible locations so that all employees are continuously reminded of what is, and is not, appropriate to wear. The employer may also find it helpful to provide pictures of work-appropriate clothing for men and women so that employees have some model to follow. An employer may want to implement Dress Down Days or a Summer Attire Dress Code Policy so that employees have the chance to dress a little more casually to work on some occasions. Any dress code policy is an inexpensive way to boost employee morale so the employer should pay close attention to the response of employees to a dress code policy, and work to find some policy that fits the employer's needs, but also makes employees happy. Further, the employer must ensure that the dress code is in compliance with any industry standards that apply.

The key to an effective dress code policy is finding a policy that is uniquely tailored to the employer's needs. Before implementing the policy or revising it, the employer may find it helpful to hold discussion groups with employees about what they would like to see in a dress code policy. If the employer produces clothing with the employer's logo, this is another aspect of the dress code policy that should be taken into account - i.e. when, and how often, employees should wear clothing that advertises the employer. Finally, employers should consider the price that employees will pay for acceptable clothing relative to their pay scales. Requiring formal business attire for employees who make minimum wage is not realistic and it will lower employee morale if employees feel they have to spend most of the money they make on clothing.

Warning

In implementing any dress code policy, employers should remember that under Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) employees in both union and nonunion workplaces have a right to engage in protected concerted activity and collective action to improve their wages, hours and working conditions.  Wearing union insignia or displaying a union logo on clothing may be viewed as a form of protected concerted activity.  Therefore, in developing, implementing and enforcing any dress code policy an employer should be careful to comply with the NLRA and make sure that such a dress code is narrowly drafted and does not interfere with employee Section 7 rights. According the report released by the General Counsel of the National Labor Relations Board in March 2015 on employer rule cases, a work rule prohibiting employees from engaging in protected concerted activity or one that can be reasonably construed as attempting to prohibit protected concerted activity may be found unlawful.  Although an employer  may seek to promote a professional image and have a legitimate safety and business reason for prohibiting employees from wearing confrontational, slanderous, insulting or provocative clothing, an employer should be careful that such any dress code policy is not overbroad.  An employer may not prohibit employees from wearing any clothing with words or messages that are derogatory toward the employer as this could be considered a form of protected concerted activity and protest regarding employee wages, hours and working conditions. Further, an employer should also remember that a dress code for union employees is a mandatory subject of bargaining. Accordingly, an employer is required to bargain with any unions regarding a dress code before unilaterally imposing one.

Further, an employer should be aware that it may be required to provide accommodations to dress code, grooming or appearance policies based on religious beliefs or practices. Employees may be permitted to wear head coverings, certain hairstyles or facial hair or observe religious prohibits against wearing certain garments. An employer must engage in the interactive process and make a good faith attempt to provide an accommodation if doing so would not create an undue hardship such as a threat to health, safety or security, increased cost to the employer, decreased workplace efficiency or an unjust burden on other employees. Each request should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. An employee's request for a religious accommodation may not be denied based on co-worker jealousy or customer preference. Also, an employer may not deny an applicant a position or assign an employee to a non-customer facing positing because the individual wears religious attire, presents the wrong image or makes others uncomfortable. Even if an employer grants a request for a religious accommodation to its dress code, it may still enforce its dress code for other employees who do not request a religious accommodation. An employer does not need to have actual knowledge of an individual's need for a dress code accommodation based on religion or receive a request for an accommodation to be liable for religious discrimination and failure to accommodate. The focus in on the employer's motivations. An individual seeking to establish a discrimination claim is not required to show that the employer had actual knowledge of the individual's need for an accommodation and must only show that the need for an accommodation was a motivating factor in the employer's adverse employment decision.

Supervisors should also be trained on how to implement and enforce the dress code policy. Asking employees to go home and change may be embarrassing for the employee and so this conversation should be conducted in a discrete and private manner. Employees should not be made to feel publicly shunned and the supervisor should be mindful of the sensitivity of the situation.

At the first indication of a violation, supervisors should ask the employee to change immediately. The less strictly the policy is enforced, the less legitimacy it will have. If the policy is not applied uniformly, courts may be less willing to accept that the policy existed and makes the employer vulnerable to discrimination claims.

An employer may find it easiest to have one individual or department responsible for reviewing and publishing this policy to make sure the policy is continuously modified as necessary. New styles may compel employers to add or remove certain aspects of the policy. An out of date policy will send a message to employees that the employer does not take the policy seriously, so every effort should be made to regularly update the policy.

Different rules can apply to men and women in certain instances. For example, an employer may prohibit men but not women from wearing earrings and require men to wear ties. The point is to make the policy apply as equally as possible to both sexes. Women cannot be required to wear makeup and skirts, for example, if men can wear Dockers and golf shirts. Different rules for different departments are also acceptable when those rules have been developed to reflect differences in workplace duties. For example, an employer may require that cafeteria workers wear a uniform while the sales force wears business attire.

Additional Resources

Employee Management > Employee Handbooks - Work Rules - Employee Conduct > Work Rules Regulating Employee Dress, Grooming and Personal Appearance

Employee Management > EEO - Discrimination

How to Deal With an Employee Who Violates the Dress Code