HR Blog

Are you really going to wear that?!

05/01/2019 | Dee Yingst

Ah, summer. The time of increases in temperature and decreases in fabric that can lead a person to wonder whether some people have mirrors at home. Goodness.

When discussing summer dress codes, I always return to the wise words uttered by my supervisor of many years ago. Roseanne would say if you would be comfortable walking on the beach in what you’re wearing, then it’s not appropriate for the office.  I think that’s a pretty good place to start…..

Safety should always come first no matter the time of year.

For instance, summer attire usually includes more casual footwear. That’s all fine and well until it causes a safety problem. Safety must be the first requirement of any dress code. Let’s say you have an employee who delivers supplies and is often using a cart or dolly. How do you suppose they’re going to feel if that cart rolls over their bare-footed flip flop?   Ouch. Given the choice of safety or style, always choose safety.

Be consistent but not rigid.

You can have a different summer dress code for different functional areas of an organization.  Maybe you want to allow office staff to wear sandals and short sleeve shirts but those garments wouldn’t be safe in your machine shop. That’s ok. Just be sure you’re being consistent.

Be reasonable and keep it enforceable.

There’s a difference between a sleeveless top and a tank top. Really, there is.  It’s ok to allow a sleeveless top but not a tank top. There’s also a difference between thong sandals and flip flops and it’s not that hard to figure out.  If you want to say no flip flops, then say ‘no flip flops’. I tell employees if they’re not sure, just bring a sweater or a “shrug” along for that sleeveless top and maybe a backup pair of shoes.  Better yet, if they’re not sure then don’t wear it.  

Give examples.

Keep it simple. I’ve done photos with “yes” and “no” on them. Sometimes visuals help more than words.

The EEOC doesn’t take a break over the summer and neither should your dress code.  

This is true all year long but bears repeating often – don’t let your dress code become a vehicle of discrimination.  Train your supervisors on the proper application of your dress code. There may be times when exceptions have to be made for things like religious garments (for example headwear such as a yarmulke, or a headscarf such as a hijab). Wearing these garments as part of religious observance is protected under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.  Trying to use your dress code as a defense against discrimination will put you right in the cross hairs of the fine folks at the EEOC1.  That is not a place you want to be. Ever.

Banish the fashion police.

Remind your employees that appropriateness is at the company’s discretion – not theirs. The overall thing to remember is that you want to keep your dress code simple – what you don’t want to do is draft something so complicated (such as how wide a strap is determines whether it’s a tank top) that you have to hand out tape measures and deputize your supervisors as fashion police. 
Have a great summer!