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Saturday, July 25, 2015

To Wear Or Not to Wear

Written by  Richard Finger

It’s the dog days of summer. Ofttimes in the workplace, employees relax the rules of business-casual attire and opt for something cooler. Taken to an extreme, this can be problematic. I recall about ten years ago, while working for a very traditional pharmaceutical firm, one of our executive’s daughter started an internship. One hot day, she chose to wear flip-flops, short shorts, and a tube top! She was a very attractive young lady, and I’m sure there were many employees happy to see her this way, but for the setting of our office, it was completely inappropriate. I had to tell her to go home and change her clothes and remind her what’s considered acceptable attire in the corporate workplace.

Unfortunately, that isn’t the only example I’ve come across. I’ve seen men wearing tank tops in an office where shirts and ties are the norm. Open-toed shoes, or sandals, are often considered a tripping hazard, and can be especially dangerous in a manufacturing setting. To avoid these uncomfortable situations, best practice is to develop and publicize a clear dress code. I’m sure there are generational differences in interpretations of what comprises the outer limits of “business casual,” so best not to leave anything to chance.

Another good idea is to train supervisors on the policy, but also how to approach an employee who has violated the dress code. I strongly suggest adding language in the dress code that includes “clean clothes,” or something to that effect. I did have a situation with a mother-and-daughter combo, both working in a closed-off account services area. Their clothes reeked, and I had many employees working nearby that complained to me and the supervisor. It was one of the most uncomfortable discussions I’ve had in my career, and along with the supervisor, we attempted to handle it with dignity and grace.

Another consideration is to determine the consequences of the dress-code violation. If the employee is an hourly, or non-exempt, employee, it is completely lawful to dock pay if the employee is sent home to change. If there’s a first infraction, the company can decide if pay should be docked or not. Dress-code violations come in different forms. It may not only be a case of too little attire, or dirty clothing. In the news, there are always cases concerning t-shirts with political or religious themes. The company dress code should also address this, as clearly as possible.

Lastly, make sure that all violations of dress code are well-documented. In the event you are dealing with a repeat offender or someone who grossly violates the policy, you will want to follow the usual disciplinary path taken for other policy violations. Remember the rule of thumb is to apply the dress code to all employees, no matter what age, sex, or other demographic. Of course some employees will not like the dress code, but be sure to explain the reason for its existence, and you will be on solid footing.

Richard Finger is president of Fresh HR Consulting (410-599-3173)... and moonlights as our restaurant reviewer!

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