Believe it or not, corporate officials debated years ago whether women should be allowed to wear pants to the office. That may seem like a tame issue these days when you can walk into many a business setting and see employees in jeans and t-shirts.
Most employees want to fit in at work, but they also want to be comfortable during the one-third of their lives they spend on the job. So a dress code is essential at many companies and should reflect your industry, the part of the country you're located in, as well as your clientele.
Your company's policies should give employees specific guidance, but not be too restrictive. For example, you probably don't want to limit the type of ties your salesmen wear, unless they all wear ties with the corporate logo as part of a uniform. On the other hand, many companies ban T-shirts with sayings or logos on them because they may be considered offensive.
In general, dress codes and uniforms are legal. They should bear some relationship to the job, but employers have some latitude in setting policies. Include the specifics in your employee handbook. It will back you up in case of a disagreement and protect you legally. Spelling out your rules prevents misunderstandings and possible embarrassment when, say, one of your best customers comes in contact with an employee wearing a pair of ripped jeans.
With that in mind, here are five corporate fashion statements to consider when setting up or revising a dress code:
1. Mandatory. If you're in a service industry, your company may require all
employees to wear uniforms.
2. Tailored. When your employees deal with the public, you may want them to present a traditional professional image. In some instances, this may mean asking them to dress in "business attire" at all times. Or, they may be required to dress professionally only when they come in direct contact with customers.
3. Casual. When your employees aren't dealing with the public, you can often enhance productivity and employee satisfaction by letting them dress down. This doesn't necessarily mean ripped jeans - for example, you may require dress pants, shirts with collars and no shorts for men.
4. Laid-back. Computer programmers, mail room personnel and others who don't come into contact with the public might be allowed to wear just about anything, as long as the dress is appropriate. (You probably don't want anyone walking around in boxer shorts.)
5. Mix and match. Popular with technology companies, this look has spread to the
rest of the work world in the form of "Casual Friday." Even most
federal government agencies let employees dress down one day a week. The attire
can run the gamut, but again, you must set the standard of what's acceptable.
Warning: Your dress code must not discriminate against employees based on race, culture, religion, gender or age. By law you are generally required to accommodate religious dress. If your policy is weighted against one group, you must have a business justification for it. For example, a particular item may be required for safety reasons. Check with your legal counsel to ensure that you are following EEOC guidelines.
The primary goal of your dress code should be to reflect your company in a way you find appropriate while allowing your employees to be comfortable.
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