The U.S. has no federal law governing employee dress codes. Because of that, employers are allowed to implement dress code guidelines they feel are appropriate as long as they do not discriminate on the basis of gender, race, religion, disability or any other federally protected status.
"Dress codes across industries have become more casual than ever – and what were once major taboos like jeans, stubble, messy buns, tattoos, have become increasingly commonplace in the modern workplace," said Rachel Bitte, chief people officer at Jobvite.
Rather than attempting to create a strict atmosphere of fancy blouses tucked into long skirts and dress shirts with ties, many employers are now open to informal attire and personal fashion trends.
"As much as possible, employees should be allowed to dress in the manner they prefer," said Ximena Hartsock, cofounder and president of Phone2Action. "When employees feel free to create and the happiness index is up, productivity is also up."
However, you may not want to allow employees so much freedom that they look sloppy in a professional office environment.
Here are some points to consider when creating and enforcing a dress code policy.
1. Collect employee feedback
Like any rule or policy, you want to make sure that you are as straightforward as possible with employees, while remaining fair and open to feedback. There's no need to be too strict with a dress code, unless employees are dealing with clients and handling many professional face-to-face tasks outside of the office where first impressions count.
Laura Burnett, employment law team manager for professional solutions company Citation, encourages employers who are creating a dress code policy to be clear, concise, consistent and flexible and to communicate expectations in an efficient manner. By doing so, your employees have a voice in the matter and avoid any misunderstandings.
2. Be mindful of all people
Genders, cultures and personal preferences all come into play in fashion, something employers should be aware of.
"I believe the clothes we choose to wear say a lot about who we are; they tell a story about us. So when we think about enforcing dress codes, we have to think about the limitations to creativity that may come from imposing them," said Hartsock.
Allowing employees to be themselves while still dressing appropriately for the position they serve in the company and their role in their industry is key.
"Piercings, tattoos, haircuts and clothing are a way to express our personalities, but (they) could also be a reflection of our culture and religion. Today's workforce is more diverse, and dress codes, or lack thereof, play a part in fostering a culture of acceptance," Hartsock stated.
3. Have a plan for dealing with violations
There will be instances where an employer must deal with dress code policy violations. If this happens, the situation needs to be handled with care so you don't accidentally invite a discrimination lawsuit.
"As long as your policy is set out and clear, you can progress to discuss a violation if you think the situation warrants it," said Burnett.
As an employer, listen to what your employees have to say and take time to understand why it occurred. Burnett also advises to be mindful of any discrimination elements, take each violation on a case-by-case basis and consider whether disciplinary action is necessary given the circumstances.
Additional reporting by Jennifer Post.