Whether employers can require their workers to adhere to a specific dress code is a matter of considerable debate. While it may seem like a straightforward issue, it involves a complex balance between an employer’s interests and an employee’s rights.
Accordingly, the more information a workplace’s staff have, the better suited they will be to addressing potential issues with employer-enforced dress codes.
Understanding dress codes
Dress codes are common in many places of work, ranging from formal attire in corporate settings to uniforms in service industries. Employers often implement these dress codes to maintain a professional image, ensure safety or promote a specific brand identity. However, the extent to which an employer can enforce these dress codes varies quite a bit.
Employer’s right to set dress codes
Employers have the right to establish dress codes for their employees to maintain a certain image and ensure workplace safety. For example, a construction company may require workers to wear steel-toed boots and hardhats to reduce the risk of injury. Similarly, a high-end restaurant may mandate formal attire to uphold its reputation.
Employee rights and considerations
While employers have the right to set dress codes, they must also consider their employees’ rights. Employees have certain protections under the law, and dress code policies must not violate these rights. Dress codes cannot discriminate against employees based on their gender, race, religion or physical ability. Such discrimination would be a clear violation of anti-discrimination laws.
In some cases, employees may request reasonable accommodation for religious or medical reasons. Employers must be willing to adjust their dress code policies to accommodate these needs, as long as doing so does not cause undue hardship to the business.
Communication and clarity
To avoid conflicts and legal issues, employers should clearly communicate their dress code policies to employees. This includes providing written guidelines and addressing any questions or concerns employees may have. Transparency and fairness are key in this regard.
According to the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council, there were 6.1 million recognized employers in 2019 alone. Because dress code policies are bound to vary greatly from employer to employer, workers must understand their rights as they relate to types of attire.