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Supervisor Guide to Dealing with a Dress Code Violation

written by: Sylvia Cochran•edited by: Michele McDonough•updated: 8/23/2010

A dress code violation calls for a disciplinary action. Unlike any other kind of policy upset, it is the dress code policy that nevertheless is of most concern to supervisors, who are mindful of a possible EEOC charge. Learn how to navigate this minefield with grace.

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    Does Your Business Have a Dress Code?

    “Dress code for visitors to the St. Peter Basilica A dress code violation can only be addressed if there is a stated dress code on record. Considering that there is the unwritten job interview dress code – to which everyone who is serious about getting a job adheres to – and even various dress codes in public schools, it stands to reason that businesses have the right to define what they deem appropriate. This is of specific concern for companies that allow casual Friday wear, since it is on these days that good judgment frequently goes out the window.

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    Common Items Covered in a Written Policy

    Depending on the business and the age of the employees, the dress code should be very specific. For example, Georgia’s Johns Creek Municipal Court(1) advises visitors, those bringing business to the court and also those being summoned that clothes must be in good repair and of a good fit. Bare midriffs are out, as are tank tops or muscle shirts. It is a good idea to suggest that any shirt with print messages is off limits; this avoids problems over differing political and religious opinions.

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    Who Enforces the Dress Code Policy?

    Take a note from the play book of D.C.’s Offender Supervision Agency(2). It is up to employees’ supervisors to not only introduce workers to the dress code but also to address violations. To avoid differing opinions, the supervisors are the final authority when it comes to judging an outfit as proper or improper.

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    Avoiding Lawsuits

    Be mindful to spell out a business casual dress code when offering this option to employees. In addition, if there is a specific office dress code for women, be sure to also include a section just for men. This avoids the appearance of gender stereotyping. Make reasonable accommodations for medical problems that may require specific types of shoes or clothing devices. In addition, religious and ethnic observances frequently demand specific clothing items. Supervisors must be sensitive to these needs.

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    Addressing Problems

    Treat a dress code violation like an incident of being late to work.

    1. A first-time offense earns a verbal warning. Remember that dress code is a sensitive issue, and it must be handled in private, preferably by a member of the violator’s gender.
    2. Follow up additional violations with written warnings. Consider having a member of the Human Resources Department present at the time of issuing the warning.
    3. Terminate the employee if the worker exhausts a standard amount of written warnings.

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    Pitfalls to Avoid

    Address a dress code violation immediately. Waiting even a day or two establishes a precedent that makes the attire acceptable. If the supervisor chides the employee for wearing the same attire on a different occasion, it may be seen as retaliatory or abusive. Moreover, avoid EEOC complaints by offering paid sick leave or personal time to the employee, so that she or he may go home to change.

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    While addressing a dress code violation can be a bit of a minefield, it is nevertheless important to be consistent about enforcing the company policy with respect to appropriate attire.

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    Photo Credit: “Dress code for visitors to the St. Peter Basilica" by Vmenkov/Wikimedia Commons at