Many organizations observe some type of dress code in their workplace policy handbook. Whether the dress code is business formal or more casual varies from company to company. Typically companies can dictate whether or not jeans, short skirts, tank-tops, flip-flops, form-fitting clothing, or muscle shirts are permitted to be worn by employees. And, generally speaking, companies are within their legal right to observe such standards in their dress code.
However, in recent years many organizations have discovered that the written dress code is not as black and white as the paper it is written on. Primarily there are three main caveats that companies need to be aware of that have a significant impact on whether or not an employee could claim discrimination according to the instituted dress policy.
Primarily companies need to ensure that their dress code is not discriminatory. In other words, the policy can address what is and what is not acceptable-but they need to be aware that discrimination claims could be made under circumstances such as allowing women to wear earrings, but not men. Or exclusively forbidding any head coverings while at work.
If your policy contains clauses such as these, it may be in your best interest to seek legal counsel to review these policies to avoid the liabilities they may carry. For instance, some religions require head coverings and unless it does not cause you undue hardship to have the employee wear the covering, such as a safety issue, you may be walking a fine line that could get you in trouble down the road.
Secondly, consider the many departments that make up your company. Your sales department may regularly interact with clients and need to wear formal business attire, whereas your employees in the warehouse do not interact with clients. Does it really make sense to have a blanket dress code that does not make accommodations for the different needs of the departments? Most likely not. Instead, remain practical in your dress code and remember that different departments may require different dress codes, especially if safety concerns are involved.
Finally be consistent in your policy. Most discrimination claims arise out of inconsistency, don’t be one of them. If you have a policy that does not allow flip-flops in the office and you allow one employee over the other to wear them on casual Fridays, you may be setting up the conditions for a lawsuit. On the other hand if you enforce the dress code equitably with everyone, the likelihood of any discrimination claims being filed is drastically reduced.