“XYZ employees are expected to wear appropriate business attire. Employees are expected to dress neatly and to exercise common sense in selecting clothing and footwear appropriate for a business environment. Hair should be neatly groomed and worn in a businesslike style.
“Women should wear suits, dresses, skirts with blouses or sweaters, or tailored slacks with professional blouses. Men should wear suits, sports coats or collared dress shirts with a tie and dress slacks.
“Management in XYZ offices may declare certain days to be Casual Dress Days, which provide employees an opportunity to dress more casually at the office. At headquarters, Casual Dress Day is the last Friday of every month. Employees should wear appropriate casual clothing that is neat, clean and not overly revealing. Participation in Casual Dress Day is a personal decision. Employees are expected to use good judgment to ensure that their attire is appropriate for all activities (including meetings and client contact) that they will be involved in that day. General guidelines regarding attire still apply on Casual Dress Days, and field locations may adopt modified guidelines as appropriate to their environment.
“Shorts (except knee-length shorts), tank tops, mesh shirts, cutoff shirts, thongs, sweat pants, jogging suits, caps, ripped jeans and T-shirts with controversial slogans are not appropriate. Jeans and athletic footwear are acceptable so long as they are in presentable condition. . . . As on regular workdays, managers/coaches have the final say on what is appropriate attire for Casual Dress Days.”
What's at issue
What people wear to work can be far more than simply a matter of personal preference. Although you don’t want to restrict your employees’ personal choices unnecessarily, you can set rules that have a sound basis in operating a safe and efficient workplace. You can require employees to wear attire that is appropriate for their position and for your company.
One area of primary concern is safety. You could be held liable for not requiring workers to wear helmets, shoes, safety glasses or any special clothing necessary to protect them from workplace accidents. You also need to ban certain accessories—jewelry, for example—or loose clothing that could be potentially hazardous in a manufacturing environment. Where safety issues are involved, you must not only have a policy in place but also ensure that all workers are aware of the policy. Then you should spell out penalties for violations of safety-related dress codes.
A dress code does not have to treat men and women exactly the same, as long as the issues addressed are relatively minor. Thus you might prohibit earrings for men but not for women, or you could require men, but not women, to wear their hair short.
A ruling by a U.S. Court of Appeals found that hair length was not “within the goal of equal employment.” Many companies have instituted a casual dress code, although they still can expect employees who are meeting with vendors, clients or other outsiders to wear appropriate business attire.
Accommodating religious attire
One key area in which you must be careful is how to accommodate an employee’s religious beliefs and practices. According to Title VII, you must “reasonably accommodate” workers who want to wear religious clothing as long as it does not impose an “undue hardship” on your business. An “undue hardship” would involve any activity that (1) affects your company’s image; (2) poses a safety or health risk; (3) adversely affects employee morale and productivity; (4) forces you to show favoritism to a religious employee or (5) violates a law or statute.
Keep in mind that you only need to accommodate an employee’s religious beliefs or practices when the claim is based on a bona fide belief (to qualify, the belief must only be sincerely held—the employee doesn’t have to be a member of an established religion).
Note: You can specify that religious clothing be neat, clean and in a color that doesn’t clash with the company uniform, if that applies. And you can ask workers to tuck in loose clothing to keep it from getting caught in potentially dangerous machinery.