General Business

Creating a Dress Code Policy

We’re thinking of adding a dress code to our handbook. What should we consider?

As with any policy, the big thing to keep in mind is that you’ll have to enforce it consistently and address any violations. In general, I recommend employers consider the following when creating a dress code:

Be clear about things you don’t want to see in the workplace. Employees may not know what vague terms like “business casual” mean, so if you don’t want them wearing sandals, shorts, sleeveless shirts, etc., say so.

Avoid gender-based rules. These could expose you to discrimination claims.

Avoid rules that require a ruler (e.g., skirts must be no more than two inches above the knee). Enforcing these could prove uncomfortable for both managers and employees.

Consider different rules for different positions or departments. It would be reasonable, for example, to have stricter rules for customer-facing positions.

Consider the culture of your workplace and where you’d like to take it. If you have and want to maintain a fun, casual culture, you should probably avoid a dress code that requires formal attire.

We’re thinking of requiring employees to keep tattoos covered. Is this something we can do?

Yes, you may prohibit visible tattoos entirely or you may simply prohibit those that are offensive, distracting, inappropriate or over a certain size.

Tattoo policies usually depend on the culture of the workplace and are often found within a broader dress code policy. Some employers avoid restrictive dress codes because they may deter impressive job candidates from applying or drive away high-performing employees. Employers who want to maintain a certain company image, however, might prefer a strict dress code. Striking a middle path is also an option – something like “Tattoos must be appropriate and in keeping with a professional image.”

When creating your policy, make sure it doesn’t discriminate based on a protected class. This would include, for example, making religious accommodations. You should also be sure to communicate your reasons to employees and apply the policy consistently (while allowing for required exceptions).

Can we tell employees not to dye their hair with bright colors?

Yes, you can tell employees not to dye their hair, but there are a few things to consider before doing so.

Brightly-colored hair is not a protected trait or class (e.g., race, sex, age). However, if it was part of a religious practice or common in a particular ethnicity, an employer would want to consider whether it would be appropriate to make an exception or accommodation. If neither of these were the case, there would be no issue enforcing a policy prohibiting brightly-colored hair.

Keep in mind, however, that creative hair colors are more common and socially acceptable today, even in professional settings. Prohibiting brightly-colored hair could make it more difficult to find or keep talented employees. It’s generally best to have a sound business reason for your dress code and appearance policy.

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