Summer dress codes

Summer’s here, and the time is right for shorts and flip-flops.

In the office?

distressed men's jeansMaybe. As a business owner, it’s your job to set the tone for your establishment. On hot summer days when you don’t have to meet with clients, suppliers, partners or financiers, you may decide to dress casually. Very casually.

And that’s okay. But the same rules should apply to everyone from teenage temporary workers to senior executives. Dress codes are a good way for employers to ensure employees look professional when they need to, sure, but also to avoid disciplinary problems, harassment claims and business-wrecking lawsuits.


Yes. A scatological or Hooters T-shirt a Gen Xer and his cohort find hilarious may be offensive to older workers. And attire with swastikas or the Confederate battle flag may result in complaints and far, far worse. There have been several lawsuits filed by workers in the past few years concerning fellow employees’ displays of or wearing clothing with the rebel flag.

So when it comes to an effective dress policy, here are a few things to consider.

Set understandable guidelines. A common error in drafting dress codes is making the language too broad and open-ended, resulting in a policy that’s hard to follow and enforce. For example: phrases like “business casual” and “professional attire” don’t clearly outline what an employee can and cannot wear. Instead use specific terms and be clear. Use phrases like “no blue jeans,” “no shorts, tank or halter tops” or “skirts and dresses must reach knee length.”

hot pink open-toed sandals

Make these guidelines reasonable. While it is advisable to err on the conservative side, an overly strict dress code can hurt employee morale. When drafting your policy try to keep in mind what is reasonable and necessary for your office. For example, flip-flops may not be acceptable in a traditional law firm but may be acceptable elsewhere. Making a policy that is unreasonably strict is also harder to enforce and may result in disciplinary complications.

Avoid discrimination. When instituting a dress code, avoid requirements that might interfere with an employee’s religious beliefs or culture. For example, some religions and cultures, such as Islam and the Amish, mandate wearing a head covering, and a “no hat” policy may violate those practices. Include a provision that reasonable accommodations can be made for religious beliefs.

Create a safe work environment. One aspect of dress codes employers often overlook is including clothing or gear requirements that could result in a safer workplace. Requiring employees to wear closed-toe shoes and never flip-flops or sandals, banning dangling jewelry or specifying what type of eyewear is allowed may result in fewer injuries and should be covered in a dress code policy.

Enforce evenly. Enforce your dress code policy evenly to avoid discrimination claims. While this is a good rule to follow with all policies, it’s easily overlooked in regards to appearance. If you are going to reprimand an employee for being scantily clad, you must also discipline an employee who breaks your no blue jeans rule, although they seem like disproportionate offenses.

Don’t go overboard on penalties. Once your new dress code is in place, it’s tempting to start enforcing it with penalties. But is that really necessary? Penalties will almost guarantee resentment. Instead, sending employees home to change after two documented offenses, or placing a warning in their file after three or more offenses may be more effective. The purpose of a dress code isn’t to make employees’ lives miserable but to create a more effective, more efficient, happier workforce.

Communicate. Clearly communicate your dress code — social media, text, paper memo, email or whatever everyone most pays attention to. Clearly address what is permissible, prohibited, the days and circumstances. Ask your employees to sign off physically or electronically to verify they have received and read it, too. Having a policy in writing will straighten out employees with a less-than-clear understanding or tendency to bend the rules, and will curb subjective judgement calls made by managers and supervisors that could result in discriminatory claims.

Here’s a dress code template you can customize to fit your needs  (scroll to center of page).

– Updated from original article “Dress Codes: Who, What, Wear” from Used with permission.