Summer Dress at Work: What’s Appropriate and What’s Not
By Elaina Loveland
May 16, 2018
Many companies have adopted a more-casual approach to dress codes in recent years. But summertime can raise questions about just how casually employees should be allowed to dress. Sandals? Yoga pants? Leggings? Short skirts? Spaghetti-strap tops? What’s appropriate and what’s not?
Preventing Dress-Code Violations
Because summer clothing can be more casual and revealing than attire worn at other times of the year, there may be an uptick in dress code violations.
“To prevent violations, every employer needs to have a policy on work-appropriate apparel, even if it’s quite simple,” said Laura Handrick, HR analyst for FitSmallBusiness.com, a New York-based small-business publishing startup with 50 employees.
Some employers take the extra step of listing prohibited clothing such as flip-flops, short shorts, spaghetti-strap tops, yoga pants or beachwear, but Handrick said that a better way of deciding what’s acceptable is to let employees come up with their own examples of what is not appropriate.
“Ask [workers] what kind of clothing would they not want to see their peers wear to work,” Handrick recommended. “They may state things like open-toed shoes on men or low-cut blouses on women or clothes that are too tight and revealing, like leggings. Those examples can be put into an employee communication or e-mail as examples of clothing that wouldn’t make the cut for summertime.”
Confronting an employee who has violated the dress code can be uncomfortable. Handrick recommends that if an attire policy has been stated in advance and is clear about what type of clothing is inappropriate, then HR may consider a verbal warning followed by a written warning given to an employee who violates the policy.
“However, it’s best not to humiliate the employee in any way but rather point to the policy itself, and ask the employee to consider how their work apparel may be distracting or offensive to others at work,” Handrick said.
In cases when the dress-code violation has to do with modesty, how a manager handles it depends on the situation.
“If the dress-code violation is truly trivial and doesn’t have an impact on safety, such as a skirt that is two inches above the knee when the employer’s dress code has a maximum of one inch, then the employer will have to make a decision about whether this is even a battle worth engaging in,” Shea said.
If a woman is wearing clothing that is too revealing, Shea said that she thinks it is better for the issue to be handled by a manager who’s also a woman.
“If the employee is dressing immodestly, employers will have to be careful that their discussion doesn’t open them up to accusations of sexual harassment,” Shea explained.
The discussion should be private and should focus on the specific violation of the dress code. “Managers should refrain from making comments about the employee’s body, such as, ‘Somebody as bosomy as you has no business wearing low-cut blouses.’ ” Shea said. “It might be helpful to explain the employer’s business justification for the dress code.”