With the advent of warmer weather, company dress codes often relax. Many employees acknowledge the change of seasons with more comfortable, cooler, and cheerier summer fashions. Ideally, employee morale and the work environment become a bit more upbeat. But some staff members take the flexibility too far and push the envelope. Whether it's too much bare skin or the snapping sound of flip flops, inappropriate dress can quickly produce problems in the workplace. What can you do?

Start with a clear policy. Explain the business reasons for your dress code, e.g.: projecting a professional business image, ensuring employee safety, meeting customer expectations, providing employees with a positive work environment that limits distractions. Give specific examples about what is and what isn't acceptable. If you use the term business casual, define it and give examples of acceptable wear such as collared polo shirts and khakis. If casual dress is acceptable only on certain days of the week, such as "casual Friday," state that clearly. Provide examples of what you don't want employees to wear, e.g. cut off shorts, flip flops or spaghetti strap tops if that's the case.

Be prepared to enforce your policy consistently. Spotty enforcement can hurt morale and lead to an accusation of discrimination. That said, it's legitimate to have different standards for different groups of employees if they are based on sound business reasons. For instance, staff who have contact with customers might be required to dress more professionally than those who do not.

Know your rights and consider the legalities. Dress codes based on sound business reasons and societal norms are usually fine. Where it can get dicey is if your policy infringes upon a protected category such as a religion or when it has a disparate impact on a minority group. For example, a policy forbidding all head coverings could present a problem for a Muslim woman or a Jewish man. A policy that allows men to wear jeans in the workplace but not similarly situated women, is discriminatory. So think through the business purposes of your dress code.

Keep the lines of communication open. Listen to your employees' request. If someone has a problem, meet with that person directly to discuss their needs so the situation gets resolved quickly without escalating. If someone has a true need based on religion or some other personal necessity, be prepared to make a reasonable accommodation as long as it does not create an undue hardship or safety concern for your business.



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