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HR Insights with Ali: Dos and Don’ts of Dress Code Enforcement

Posted on 6/14/2017 by Ali Oromchian, Esq.
When you run a business, which runs upon daily interactions with the public, you always want to put your best foot forward. As representatives of your practice, your employees need to be dressed appropriately to project an appearance of professionalism. As an employer, you are well within your rights to expect your staff to adhere to dress code regulations. However, you should be aware of what you can and cannot require when it comes to the appearance of your employees.

Generally speaking, a dress code will be legal as long as it doesn’t target anyone in a protected class or otherwise contribute to or cause the harassment of individuals. Dress codes most often become problematic when they induce allegations of religious discrimination, national origin discrimination, or gender discrimination. Therefore, you cannot prohibit the wearing of clothing or personal items worn for religious purposes, for example. Another example is to have dress code requirements that apply equally to both genders to avoid gender discrimination claims.

To avoid confusion, most employee handbooks contain information on what is and is not permitted under a practice’s dress code. The safest approach is to have specific business purposes behind your dress code requirements, and ensure that those requirements are being applied fairly and consistently. For example, if an employee asks for an exemption to the dress code for religious purposes, you should grant such an exemption whenever possible, equally for all religions and employees. This best practice will allow you to make requirements associated with the chosen apparel and grooming of your staff, without putting your practice at risk of a discrimination claim.

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