MSN Law Office

Essential HR Policies: Employee Dress and Appearance

HR Policies-Employee Dress Columbus, OH

This week we continue our series on Essential HR Policies. Places of business that have a particular standard of appearance (or a dress code) for employees should have these standards in writing. This can be a sensitive area that often invites claims of discrimination—especially if some employees are allowed to bend the rules. It’s crucial that you have sound business reasons for your business’s particular employee dress and appearance policies.

What Is a Dress Code or Appearance Policy?
A dress code or appearance policy is a document, usually contained in the employee handbook, that specifies what is appropriate for employees to wear to work and other standards of appearance. Dress codes vary from company to company, especially in different industries. Some industries, such as the medical field, might have a customary dress code, i.e. employees are expected to wear scrubs. But a legal firm might require that employees dress professionally to ensure they make a good impression on visiting clients. And a manufacturing company might require that employees wear protective clothing such as steel-toed shoes, hard hats, and other safety gear. What is considered appropriate in one industry may be highly inappropriate in another.

When you create a dress code policy for your small business, the policy should align with your company culture. If you operate a more formal office, you might reasonably expect employees to adopt business formal attire. But if your place of business is more fun and casual, business casual might be acceptable. You might even opt for “casual Fridays.” Whatever standard you adopt for your small business, you should also consult with legal counsel to minimize the risk of potential employment discrimination or other legal claims.

Is It Legal to Have a Dress Code Policy or Set Standards for Employee Appearance?
In general, employers in Ohio are allowed to regulate the way their employees look and dress, as long as the policies do not end up discriminating against certain employees. At some places of business, for example, employees might be required to wear a uniform to give everyone a similar appearance. What a dress code policy cannot do is impose heavier requirements on an employee because of their gender, race, religion, or cultural background. Dress code policies that violate an employee’s rights under the Equal Employment Opportunity Act (EEOC) could be deemed illegal.

What Are the Elements of a Dress Code Policy?
Company dress code policies should include the following elements:

  • Introduction: Explain what the organization expects regarding how employees should present themselves and why their appearance is important. Make it clear that the policy applies to all employees; no one is exempt or entitled to special treatment.
  • Policy Guidelines: Explain what kind of clothing is appropriate in the workplace. This should include information about acceptable jewelry, tattoos, hairstyles, etc., as well as a note about appropriate hygiene. This part of the policy can also include examples of what is not appropriate, i.e., ripped jeans, shorts, workout gear, and other items that would fall outside the dress code policy.
  • Discipline: Identify potential disciplinary action for violation of the appearance policy. Will employees be sent home to change clothes? Will they receive a written or verbal warning?
  • Questions or Concerns: Wrap up the section with a note telling employees who they should contact if there any issues or concerns about the dress code.

How Can You Avoid a Discriminatory Dress Code Policy?
Dress codes should be inclusive and avoid bias. This is easier said than done because people have unconscious biases that affect others. It’s crucial to confront those unconscious biases when drafting a dress code policy. When drafting an appearance policy, consider:

  • Does the policy affect every employee in the same way, or does it have an impact on a particular racial, ethnic, or religious group? For example, hairstyles like dreadlocks are commonly associate with African-Americans. Blanket policies that ban such a hairstyle are increasingly coming under scrutiny for having a disparate impact on African-Americans. According to the American Bar Association (ABA), the movement to end hair discrimination is gaining traction.
  • If a policy might come under scrutiny, is there a legitimate business reason for adopting the policy? For example, rather than having a blanket policy that says men can’t have long hair, you might have a more carefully crafted policy that requires all employees, regardless of sex, to have their hair groomed in such a way that it won’t get caught in dangerous manufacturing equipment.
  • Is the policy based on sex and gender stereotypes? Requiring business casual attire in an office setting is perfectly fine. Defining business casual attire based on sex or gender stereotypes can invite claims of gender discrimination, especially against trans, nonbinary and gender non-conforming employees and applicants.
  • Does the policy allow for religious accommodations? Some religions require beards or a specific type of clothing, such as turbans or hijabs. If an employee or job applicant raises a concern about the appearance policy and the way that it relates to their faith, you should be prepared to make reasonable accommodations.

If you need help drafting or updating your employment policies, please click below to schedule a consultation.

Related Posts