As employees return to work, there will be a myriad of challenges. One obstacle employers may not have anticipated in their return to work plans is adherence to dress code. Many employers are finding that as employees return to the office, they’re coming back wearing clothes that don’t meet employee policies for business attire. MP’s HR services experts share the four best HR strategies for handling employees pushing back against the dress code.
1. Create or update dress code policies before returning to work.
If there isn’t already a dress code in the employee handbook, it’s imperative to develop one. If one already exists, the HR team should review it and update it where necessary. A comprehensive dress code should include:
- General guidelines: What clothing, jewelry, and hygiene are appropriate. Some employers may include a requirement for employees not to have visible tattoos or excessive piercings. It’s a best practice to consider how necessary these requirements are. Tattoos are becoming more popular than ever now, and restricting employees’ freedoms will frequently hurt employee engagement.
- Safety requirements: If employees need to wear apparel or hairstyles for safety reasons, the policy should indicate them. For instance, in a laboratory setting with dangerous chemicals, employees are frequently required to wear closed-toed shoes and keep hair tied back from their faces.
- Language allowing exceptions to the dress code: Employers should include language that permits employees with religious or medical needs to request exceptions to the dress code when necessary. This language should include how and to who employees must submit requests.
- Consequences: Dress code policies should include the potential consequences of infractions. These could consist of disciplinary action and sending employees home to change. Employers may include a statement about termination if the infractions continue.
- Examples of ideal dress: It will be helpful to provide concrete examples of appropriate attire for the industry. For instance, “Khaki pants, closed-toed shoes, neat hair styling, button-down shirts, and simple jewelry.”
- Beware of any discriminatory language or requirements: Many employers may have discriminatory language or requirements in their dress codes. To help build a company culture that embraces diversity, dress code requirements must be gender-neutral and non-discriminatory. An example of this mistake is when employers indicate that employees cannot wear hairstyles that express their cultural identity, such as afros. Employees should never be penalized for wearing garments related to religious and spiritual beliefs, such as hijabs.
2. Share the dress code policy:
HR experts suggest these best practices for sharing a staff manual and updated employee policies. Employers should share the updated policy (or the employee handbook if it has been over a year since they last shared it). Employers should share these materials in a way employees may easily reference as needed. Employers could post policies on bulletin boards in break rooms, on a company intranet, or email a copy. Another best practice is to include an acknowledgment sheet with a space for a signature. If employers don’t share the policy via HR software, like MP’s, they should collect the signed acknowledgment sheets and save them in their employee files.
3. Revisit the dress code and consider changing:
Employee retention is critical in today’s workforce. Employers that aren’t offering the most appealing work environment and benefits will lose out heavily in the talent war—and business. According to one report, an employer may spend up to 33% of an employee’s salary in the process of replacing them. One benefit an employer could easily offer to its staff is a more relaxed dress code. If this isn’t possible every day, it might be possible once a week or even once a month. If employees aren’t interacting with clients in person, it might be worth allowing them some freedom in how they present themselves. This is especially true if they’re reluctant to come back to the office after dressing comfortably at home.
4. Work with the employee and document transgressions if needed:
If employees break the dress code, employers must manage to the policy in a consistent manner. As with all policies, managers must apply the policy consistently to avoid complaints of discrimination. If an employee does break the dress code without a viable reason (such as a religious concern or health issue), a manager should document the incident. They should warn the employee that there will be disciplinary consequences if they break the policy again. In extreme cases, employers may fire an employee who frequently violates the dress code. To reduce legal risk, employers should consult an employment lawyer or HR expert before making this decision. Having proper documentation and an HR representative present will be imperative to this process. (MP’s team of HR compliance experts often assist with this task).
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