Workplaces have become more relaxed in recent decades when it comes to what kind of clothing employees are allowed or required to wear. Gone are the Mad Men days where men wore suits and ties, and women wore dresses and skirts. Casual Fridays have given way to full-time casual dress in many offices where employees aren't regularly dealing with the public or clients.
Employers have a right to implement and enforce a dress code that they believe is appropriate for their workplace. However, they need to be careful that their requirements can't be viewed as discriminatory. In some cases, they might even be illegal.
Whether you have a workplace where employees can show their unique fashion sense or one where a uniform of some sort is required (even if it's khakis and a polo shirt), it's important to steer clear of any requirements that could get you into legal jeopardy.
Let's look at some things to keep in mind when creating or amending your dress code:
Employees should not be forbidden from wearing clothing required by their religious beliefs. The lawsuit against Abercrombie & Fitch for not letting a Muslim employee wear a hijab is a good example of how this kind of policy can lead to expensive litigation and reputational damage.
Employers don't necessarily need to have the same dress code for males and females. However, it shouldn't place more of a burden on one gender than the other.
If employees are required to purchase uniforms or other special clothing required for work, it shouldn't be an economic burden on them. Companies can avoid this by providing employees with uniforms or giving them money to purchase required clothing.
Employers need to avoid possible charges of discrimination based on gender, religion, disability or other protected status. They also need to provide reasonable accommodations for people of different religions and those with disabilities. They need to make sure that the dress code is enforced consistently. You might require your senior employees to dress differently than the people in the mailroom. However, within these groups, you need to enforce the dress code fairly.
An experienced attorney can advise you as you develop or update your dress code to ensure that it complies with state and federal law. They can also help if you are faced with a complaint or lawsuit over your company's dress code.