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

Question:

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

Answer from Kara, JD, SPHR:

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.

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Kara practiced employment and bankruptcy law for five years before joining us, and was a Human Resources Generalist at an architecture and engineering firm for several years prior to that. As an attorney she worked on many wage and hour and discrimination claims in both state and federal court. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Oregon State University and earned her law degree from Lewis and Clark Law School.

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