A business dress code policy that is discriminatory — or improperly enforced – opens up a company to lawsuits. Consider the following scenarios:
- An employee asserts a violation of civil rights under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act(1). A worker may feel discriminated against because of a dress code that stands in direct opposition to ethnic or religious clothing requirements.
- An employer includes rules about facial hair and personal hygiene in a dress code policy. An African American male employee threatens racial discrimination legal action because he suffers from pseudofolliculitis barbae, also known as razor bumps, which the American Osteopathic College of Dermatology(2) identifies as occurring in about 60 percent of men with curly hair.
Jumping the Dress Code Hurdles
A human resources department must draft a business dress code policy with the legal issues firmly in mind. There are several suggestions for an HR representative to consider while putting together the rules:
- Diffuse allegations of violated civil rights by drafting a policy that supervisors enforce uniformly among the employees.
- Include exceptions for ethnic and religious garb that is worn during special occasions, festivals or that must be worn daily.
- Ensure that the dress code is not stricter on one gender than the other. Adopt a unisex approach whenever practical.
- Avoid any regulations that govern personal hygiene, especially hair or beard lengths.
Example of a Standard Business Dress Code Policy
Now that you have had a glimpse of some of the pitfalls that lurk just beneath a seemingly innocent attire protocol, consider this dress code policy example:
- Men and women may wear full-length slacks, pants or suit pants made from cotton, wool, flannel or synthetic fibers. Please avoid stretch pants, sweat pants and shorts.
- Women may wear dresses, skirts or split skirts that reach knee-level and are made from cotton, wool, flannel or synthetic fibers. Please avoid skorts, mini skirts, sun dresses, denim or spandex.
- Men may wear dress shirts, women may wear blouses. Both genders may wear polo shirts, turtlenecks, sweaters, sports or suit jackets. Please avoid wearing t-shirts, clothing with commercial, political or religious slogans, sweatshirts, halter-tops and anything that leaves the shoulders bare.
- Please wear closed-toe shoes. Avoid flip-flops, thongs, sandals and worn-out sneakers.
- Please refrain from wearing head coverings of any kind, unless they are part of a religious or ethnic attire requirement.
- Your supervisor will answer any questions with respect to this business dress code policy. S/He is also charged with enforcing it.
- A first violation of the dress policy results in a verbal warning; a second and third violation lead to a first and second written warning. A fourth violation may result in the employee’s dismissal.
Please remember that a business dress code policy is only as good as the amount of consistent enforcement it receives. Spotty enforcement, selective heavy-handedness and also dress code requirements that do not seem to make sense for the type of business they regulate all open the doors to lawsuits. By word of a disclaimer, a human resources representative must understand that even the aforementioned example of a dress code should be vetted by an attorney to ensure that it meets a specific business’ needs and its workforce’s requirements.
Photo Credit: “Receptionists at DICE in Stockholm" by Evan/ Pieter Kuiper/Wikimedia Commons at https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Receptionists.jpg