Easter Sunday just passed, so it is official—spring is here and, before we realize, summer will have arrived. With summer comes warmer weather and trips to the pool, lake, or beach. People exchange their jackets, sweaters, and boots for more casual clothing (such as flip flops, shorts, and tank tops). Often this overly casual attire makes its way into the workplace, notwithstanding dress code policies. Further complicating the matter, many employers institute “casual” dress days during the summer months. Therefore, this is a good time to remind employees and managers of the company’s dress code policy and the consequences for violating the policy.
Companies may establish dress code policies for either all employees or limited to certain departments in order to serve their business needs, including safety concerns, as long as the policies do not violate the anti-discrimination provisions of the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 or similar state law equivalents. For instance, reasonable modifications may be necessary for ethnic, religious, or disability reasons. However, failure to consistently enforce a neutral dress code/attire policy or provide reasonable accommodations can expose an employer prospective employer to potential liability. In fact, currently before the U.S. Supreme Court is a case pertaining to a religious accommodation from a clothing retailer’s dress code policy.
A thorough and well-written dress code/attire policy may, therefore, be important, as it sets out the rules to employees and managers, and establishes the standards and tone the employer wishes to set. However, consistent enforcement of the policy is equally critical — the devil is in the details so to speak. Consistent and uniform enforcement not only reduces potential liability exposure, but also prevents the slow deterioration of the dress code in the workplace. Stated another way, policies need to be enforced to remain effective.
Below are some general suggestions regarding enforcement of dress code policies:
Litigation challenges to dress codes or attire policies has risen in recent years. Further, as noted above, potential liability can arise under a variety of circumstances. Therefore, employers should take appropriate steps to ensure both their managers are knowledgeable of the company policy and potential legal issues, including when to seek legal guidance.