Why company dress codes create problems in the workplace

Dress codes are one of those company standards that may seem pretty easy to deal with, but in reality, they’re anything but.


At a basic level, employees’ ideas about the meaning of terms like “business casual,” “office casual,” or “smart casual” might not match up with your company’s interpretation.


But employees may be further confused about why there are different standards for men and women included in dress codes. In some cases, they may even wonder whether restrictions or requirements applying to one sex or another could be discriminatory.


For instance, the following are common disparities in dress code policies for men and women:


  • Women may wear open-toe sandals, while men may not.
  • Men must have their legs covered (pants), while women may wear cropped or capri-style pants or skirts.
  • Men must wear their hair short, while women have no restrictions on hair length.
  • Men may not have visible piercings; women are allowed multiple ear piercings.


A sex-based disconnect


Courts have sided with employees in situations where companies have asked employees to conform to sex-based stereotypes. For instance, if a company required an employee, who was otherwise complying with the company dress code, to dress more “femininely,” she’d likely be able to make a case for sex discrimination.


Yet federal courts have generally upheld different dress or grooming standards for men and women in line with sex stereotypes and cultural norms when they’re outlined in dress codes. This is despite the fact that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the law that prohibits sex discrimination, does not expressly except dress codes.

Where a line might be drawn

A court may be more likely to cry foul, however, if an employer’s dress code puts a considerably higher burden on one sex compared to the other.

For instance, if a dress code required women to wear elaborate costumes and spend considerably more time getting themselves ready for work (intricate hair, makeup, and/or nail requirements might contribute to this), they might then have a claim of sex discrimination.

The emergence of legal protections based on sexual orientation and transgender status may be an indication that the legal world is beginning to recognize the potentially complicated (and some would argue, less binary) nature of sex and gender. As these issues evolve, employees may eventually have more success challenging sex-based disparities in dress codes.

But for now, employers can generally feel comfortable with slight differences in dress code requirements for men and women.

Minimizing dress code violations

Summer is coming, and for many employers, an increase in dress code violations may also be on the way. While your managers likely address dress code infractions, you can help them by making your company policy as clear as possible.

Define the terms. A dress code mandating “professional attire” is going to mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people. Include a careful definition of the type of items that are and are not allowed with your desired style of dress.

Give examples. The language of your policy might already include examples, but pictures can be even more effective. Showing employees several examples of ensembles that are allowed vs. unacceptable options can help drive your point home.


Update it. If the summer brings with it a lot of inappropriate spaghetti straps, for example, don’t be afraid to update your policy to clarify that the company deems these unacceptable. Of course, you must also clearly communicate these revised standards to employees and ask that management consistently enforce your restrictions.




Source: https://www.bizjournals.com