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Introduce an Office Dress Code Policy and Keep Your Employees Happy

6 min read

Many professions are synonymous with some sort of outfit. Lawyers wear suits and doctors wear scrubs. But the getups for other types of jobs can be more vague and differ from company-to-company.

Implementing a dress code brings consistency to your workplace. But it’s also important to remember that most people don’t like being told what to wear. In this guide, you’ll learn how you can introduce an effective office dress code policy that isn’t too much of a burden on your staff.

What does an office dress code accomplish?

There are plenty of good reasons for your company to have an employee dress code. Perhaps you want the employees who interact with customers to appear professional and welcoming. A dress code requiring a certain type of outfit or specific uniform ensures each team member’s appearance positively represents your company.

Safety is another reason for a dress code. Employees who do labor-intensive work may need to wear protective clothing or gear. For example, people who work in construction, food preparation, or medical jobs are legally required to wear certain clothing to keep themselves and others safe.

A dress code also allows your company to define what’s appropriate for employees to wear in the workplace. If left open to interpretation, outfits can range from jeans and t-shirt to suit and tie, and include everything in between. Implementing an easy-to-understand dress code can prevent problems from occurring and ensure your entire staff dresses consistently.

Employees don’t like dress codes

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that people don’t like dress codes. We like to wake up in the morning and put on what makes us comfortable. Many companies that allow for causal dress even advertise it as a perk when recruiting new talent.

One of the biggest downsides of an office dress code is it can stifle individuality. Giving employees total freedom to express their personal style can establish a strong company culture. Picture a stereotypical startup office versus a traditional corporate office. One is likely lively and flowing with creativity and the other is probably boring and mundane.

This doesn’t mean you should abandon plans for a dress code policy. You just need to make sure it will ultimately benefit your company.

Takeaway: Have a good reason for your dress code

Your staff might not be excited to hear a dress code is coming but they’ll be able to accept it if you can provide a good reason for it. Without an explanation, your new policy will likely be met with confusion and disappointment.

Having a defined reason also sets your company up to create an effective office dress code. Don’t lose sight of it or you can end up with a policy that fails to accomplish what you want it to.

The dos and don’ts of rolling out an office dress codes

An effective dress code is logical and easy to understand. Follow these tips and your employees will accept your new policy:

  • One size doesn’t always fit all. You can have a policy that has different requirements for different teams. Employees who interact with customers can have more stringent dress requirements than those who work behind the scenes.
  • What do your employees think? Ask for input from the people who will be affected most by the new dress code. For instance, if you’re introducing requirements for your sales team, ask them what their typical customer wears so you can create a policy that makes sense.
  • Ambiguous language does no good. What’s the difference between “business casual” and “casual?” Don’t leave it up to your employees to decide. Give specific examples of what types of attire are acceptable.
  • Know the latest fashion trends. Make sure the examples you provide don’t consist of outdated fashion. Strive to create a policy that allows employees to be stylish so they feel like they look good at work.
  • Put it on paper. Your dress code policy should be clearly explained and documented in your employee handbook. Make sure it’s explained to new hires so they come in properly dressed on their first day.
  • Explain the consequences. Clearly explaining your dress code also means outlining the consequences for violations. Make sure they’re also included in your employee handbook.
  • A flexible policy is often the best approach. Uniforms offer consistency but should only be introduced if needed. Try to implement a policy that sets a standard but still gives your employees some freedom to choose what they wear each day.

A fair policy for all

Businesses are generally free of restrictions when it comes to dress codes. However, discrimination can occur if the policy isn’t properly communicated. Here are a few types of discrimination to be careful of:

  • Religious discrimination – Businesses cannot prevent employees from wearing religious apparel unless there is a strong reason, such as safety.
  • Gender discrimination – Dress codes can have different standards for males and females. For example, men may be required to wear a tie while women won’t. However, no policy can give an employment advantage to either gender.
  • Racial discrimination – A policy cannot have an adverse impact on a particular race. Racial discrimination claims based on dress codes are rare but can occur.
  • Sexual harassment – This is the one to be careful of. A well-written and crafted policy won’t contain any offensive language. But be sure the employees who communicate it and handle violations never behave in a hostile manner. 

Always have your company’s legal team review any new workplace policies before they’re shared with the staff.

Taking action when dress code violations occur

Even if you create a fair and understandable policy, some employees will still fail to comply with it. Fortunately, you’ll be able to respond accordingly if the consequences are clearly stated in the employee handbook.

For first time violators, it’s often a good idea to have a calm and private conversation with them. Explain how their outfit falls short of expectations, without questioning or insulting their fashion sense. Make sure they understand the policy and the consequences of a second violation.

If an employee repeatedly fails to follow your policy, it’s up to you and your company to determine the appropriate punishment. You can consider sending the employee home for the day, suspending them, or even termination. Just make sure the repercussions for dress code violations are documented and shared with all your employees.

Accomplish your goals and respect your employees

Creating an office dress code that is fair to your company and staff is a fine balance. First define the goal for your dress code, then create a policy that helps you accomplish it. Keep your goal in mind throughout the planning process and you’ll end up with a dress code that is fair, flexible, and can be easily accepted by your entire staff.

If you’re interested in learning more, check out our infographic titled, “Dress Codes: Do They Matter?”

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