Dress Code Policy: Everything You Need to Know

The dress code policy of a company details how employees are required to dress when they are at work. It is important for employees to understand that their appearance at work is a direct representation of their company and makes a lasting impression — both positive and negative — on customers, company visitors, and other employees.

A dress code policy is an important tool for employers and can help them ensure that their workforce appears professional. A dress code policy can also be useful in avoiding discipline issues and harassment claims. When choosing their attire, employees should show professional taste and judgment. Employees should decide if they are dressing appropriately by determining if they are showing courtesy to their fellow workers and will appear professional to clients.

Only an employer has the power to set a dress code policy, although employers should be sure that their policy is not contrary to anti-discrimination laws.

Establishing a Business Dress Code

In special cases, companies may choose to alter their dress code policy. A good example of this would be a company event that requires semi-formal attire. In this circumstance, a company could require all its employees, both male and female, to wear suits, ties, and dress shoes.

Some companies include a dress-down or casual day as part of their dress code. On these designated days, employees can wear more relaxed clothing like jeans, casual blouses, and regular shoes. However, if an employee needs to meet with a client or other party, they should follow the normal dress code.

An employee's position in the company can influence their manner of dressing. Employees who must frequently meet with clients should follow a more formal dress code.

Workplace attire can vary depending on the workplace, including everything from uniforms to suits. Because casual attire has become increasingly accepted in several industries, it is important for business owners to maintain the dress standards they desire for their business.

Establishing basic dress rules is important, particularly if your employees regularly interact with the public. It may be advisable to require uniforms to minimize dress code confusion. Even if your employees don't interact with the public, a dress code is good choice to maintain a professional atmosphere.

Consider the following factors if you're considering a dress code for your business:

  • The public image of your business
  • The type of work your employees perform and how this might be affected by a dress code
  • Any safety standards you must follow
  • The privacy of your employees
  • The impact a dress code may have on company morale

You will also need to consider any legal issues that could arise from imposing a dress code on your employees.

General Dress Code Rules

In addition to wearing the right clothes, employees should be well-groomed and clean. However, manners of grooming dictated by culture or religious beliefs cannot be restricted.

Any clothes that your employees wear should be work appropriate. Clothing that is used for exercise or outdoor activities should not be included in an office dress code but may be appropriate for a gym or outdoor retailer. Above all else, employee attire should be professional, meaning clothes should not be revealing or inappropriate in some other way.

Employee clothing should be clean and free from any noticeable wear and tear. Clothes with visible holes, rips, or tears should never be worn at work. Employees should also refrain from wearing clothes with graphics or stamps that could be considered offensive.

Formal Dress Code

It is important for the attire worn by a company's employees to reflect the company's reputation, particularly in work environments that are visited on a regular basis by customers and clients. Businesses that require formal attire project good judgment and help clients feel secure.

For male employees, proper business attire can include dress pants, sport jackets, and suits. Proper business attire for female employees can include pant suits, skirt suits, and sport jackets.

Business Casual Dress Code

It is essential for work environments that serve customers to have a professional business casual attire. Customers decide whether they will use your services based on a variety of factors, including the dress of your employees.

Business casual attire is very similar to formal business attire in that it can include suits, jackets, and dresses. However, business casual attire can be more comfortable and resemble a person's natural attire.

Some of the most common examples of business casual attire that might be appropriate for your workplace include corduroy pants, polo shirts, khaki pants, a sweater, or a skirt.

Don't be fooled, however, by the word "casual" in business casual attire. Clothes like t-shirts, collarless shirts, jeans, or sneakers should not be worn in workplaces that use a business casual dress code.

Casual Dress Code

Some businesses may employ a casual dress code that encourages their employees to dress for their comfort. However, even if a workplace uses a casual dress code, employees should not wear clothes that are offensive or that would cause their coworkers discomfort.

Employees should never wear clothes that display profanity or that promote topics such as age, gender, ethnicity, politics, race, religion, or sexuality.

Laws Affecting Dress Codes

Dress codes can be legally valid when instituted correctly. However, if you're not careful about how you develop your dress code, your business may run afoul of anti-discrimination laws at the state and federal level.

If an employee states that they must wear a certain type of clothing or refrain from wearing certain clothes due to their religious beliefs, you will need to show that you are justified in your requirements, provide them accommodation for their religious beliefs, and request that the employee seeks an exemption for their religious attire.

When an employee's religious beliefs conflict with safety standards, such as the necessity of wearing a hard hat, you can try several approaches:

  • Explain to the employee that because of safety laws they cannot do their job without the hard hat.
  • Ask the employee to consult their religious leader about an exemption.
  • Give the employee a different responsibility that will not force a violation of their religious beliefs.

If you need help with developing a dress code policy, you can post your legal need on UpCounsel's marketplace. UpCounsel accepts only the top 5 percent of lawyers to its site. Lawyers on UpCounsel come from law schools such as Harvard Law and Yale Law and average 14 years of legal experience, including work with or on behalf of companies like Google, Menlo Ventures, and Airbnb.