Summer weather means the kids are out of school and people are out of the office on vacation, which means the vibes in the office is more relaxed, workloads are lighter, and people start to dress more casually. It’s a natural progression, but if t-shirts and flip flops don’t fit with your office dress code, you should have a summer dress code policy in place. But whether you have one or not, and what dress your policy stipulates is up to you, your industry, culture and employees.

Does having a dress code matter?

Many would say that forcing your employees to dress a certain way is archaic. The way people work is so different now and going to the office doesn’t necessarily mean what it used to. People work from home or in a coffee shop, and they wear hoodies to work instead of collared shirts and ties. When dress is trending decidedly more casual at work, it begs the question – why have a dress code at all? Well, that largely depends on your industry, business needs and company culture. What works for one business won’t necessarily work for another. There are still valid reasons why business owners set a dress code, which can include:

  • How your employees dress impacts the way your customers (and potential customers) view your business. This is important if your employees meet regularly with clients, visitors, or vendors at events, in video calls or in meetings.
  • A dress code can set the tone for a workplace and encourage the level of professionalism and respect you expect. This view is not agreed on by all, but it’s a common reason to do it nonetheless. Of course, while we hope and expect to be judged based on our skills and abilities as opposed to appearance and presentation. First impressions matter.
  • Dress codes maintain health and safety standards at work. For example, it makes sense if open-toed shoes are banned in a car factory but not at a graphic design company. In this case, a dress code is essential to protect employees from potentially dangerous situations.
  • If an employee violates a dress code, you have a set policy in place to point towards which can help you avoid awkwardness and give employees a standard to follow. Otherwise, they will invent their own rules.

How can you avoid conflict when implementing a dress code?

Telling people how to dress can be tricky. After all, the perception is you are limiting people’s ability to express themselves, not to mention dress codes tend to be created around gender biases. Employers that are unable to create and carry out a dress code tactfully could wind up with disgruntled employees, or worse lawsuits and fines. There are a few things you can do to set yourself up for success when rolling a new dress code or just reminding people of the current policy.

  • Set expectations and keeps things clear and consistent
  • Be deliberate about it. Don’t just set arbitrary guidelines
  • Be consistent in policy, in how you enforce and what you enforce
  • Put it in writing.
  • Give plenty of advanced notice so people can be prepared, adjust and ask questions.
  • Ensure the message is communicated to everyone and it is consistent to all employees, no matter their gender or position.
  • Provide a brief explanation and purpose for having a dress code that is relevant to your business and employees.
  • Don’t call out any specific employees in examples. Keep them general and gender neutral. Oftentimes dress codes seem to apply more to women than men even though everyone can violate the policy.
  • Be available for questions or concerns and feedback so employees feel seen and heard
  • Outline the repercussions for violations (like going home to change) and what happens if there are repeated offenses.
  • Make reasonable accommodations for religious or medical conditions that prevent employees from following the dress code.
  • Consider using pictures to more effectively illustrate examples – if your dress code is business casual or professional that means different things to different people, so it helps to be specific. Can your employees wear t-shirts or not if it’s business casual? Do “Casual Fridays” apply if you’re business casual?

Specific dress code concerns during the summer (and year-round) could include:

  • Pant or skirt length requirements – Are shorts allowed?
  • Athletic wear – Is workout gear like sweatpants, sweatshirts and leggings allowed?
  • Can clothes have logos on them?
  • Do shirts have to have collars?
  • Are sandals or flip flops or sneakers appropriate?
  • Do shirts have to be tucked in?
  • Are sleeveless shirts appropriate?
  • Summer Fridays – Friday jean day?
  • Does hair length or color matter?
  • Can piercings or tattoos be on display?
  • Are there restrictions on accessories or hats worn in the office?

What could go wrong?

Obviously, the greatest concern with a dress code is that it will be unintentionally discriminatory. A policy or enforcement of a policy that discriminates based on gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or religion is a big deal and you want to avoid it like the plague. Discriminatory policies create a toxic work environment. They target certain employees and make the workspace feel like an unsafe place to be, which directly impacts the productivity and loyalty of your employees.

Like we mentioned above, the way you dress for many is a form of self-expression and putting restrictions or limitations can feel like you are infringing on people’s rights. To help remedy that, explain why a dress code is necessary and explain they can still express their personality within the bounds set. Encourage employees to express themselves and use the dress code to empower them to do and feel their best.

If you are feeling out of your depth when it comes to creating or implementing important employee policies and procedures, feel free to explore our HR services or get in touch with us.