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Do's and Don'ts of summer dress codes from head to toe

Posted by Julie Sears on Tue, Jul 08, 2014 @ 03:48 PM

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It may be air conditioned in the office, but summer still brings out the widest array of attire by employees.  To be sure you can keep your cool when it comes to enforcing office dress code policies, follow these do’s and don’ts.

Do:  Know that you have the power to set the rules and enforce them. Dress codes can be different for men and women (if they are fair and not discriminatory) and for in-office and client-sites.  You can also include non-attire appearance issues like tattoos, piercings, and hairstyles. The rules must be enforced uniformly for each group.

Don’t:  Expect your employees to read your mind.  Include your dress code in the employee handbook including penalties for non-compliance.  Also, it won’t take much effort to email or post the dress code policy each Memorial Day as a friendly reminder.

Do:  Be consistent with enforcement and offer specific guidance for improvement.  It’s easier to maintain a standard than raise it.  New employees will also appreciate being able to see what others are wearing and follow suit.

Don’t:  Play favorites or make exceptions without cause for certain people. You’ll open your company to legal claims.  Remember, however that according to the EEOC, unless it would be an undue hardship, an employer must reasonably accommodate an employee's religious practices including such things as dress or grooming.

Do:  Explain why the dress code is important to your business and its reputation.  Consider your company’s culture when reviewing your dress code.  Creative agencies may have different norms than financial firms.

Don’t:  Leave people guessing.  Give them an internal go-to person for questions about the rules.

Do:  Be specific. “Casual” means different things to different people.  Dictate the acceptable length of skirts/dresses; whether shorts are ever appropriate; or what defines an “open toed shoe” or flip flop or sandal.

Don’t: Be too specific.  Unless you plan to start issuing uniforms, value your employees’ diversity of style as long as the wardrobe is within acceptable dress code guidelines, the employee should be free to wear what they want. Freedom of expression, particularly in the summer, is a highly valued trait by employees.

Do:  If you have “Casual Fridays” consider including language in your dress code that is
specific to this privilege in the dress code.  This will give you something to reference when addressing violations. 

Don’t:  Let “Causal Friday” become “Unproductive Friday”.  Remember, your company is more than a set of fashion guidelines. 

One more thing:  Guidelines and codes are a great start, but mentoring and offering guidance is also highly valued.  Rising stars may not recognize it if their attire is holding them back from out-of-office meetings or even a promotion.  Consider finding a way to quietly point younger people in the right direction.

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