Not just a matter of style: Factor safety, liability into dress code

May 16, 2012
in HR / Employee Relations

A recent HR Specialist poll on our website found that casual attire is the norm in 88% of our ­readers’ workplaces. But a culture of dressing down doesn’t mean organizations don’t need a dress code.

What people wear to work is more than a matter of personal preference. Although you don’t want to restrict your employees’ personal choices unnecessarily, you can set rules that promote a safe and efficient workplace. You can require employees to wear attire that is appropriate for their jobs and for your company.

One area of primary concern is safety. You could be held liable for not requiring workers to wear helmets, shoes, safety glasses or any special clothing necessary to protect them from workplace hazards. You also need to ban certain accessories—jewelry, for example—or loose clothing that could be potentially hazardous in a some workplaces.

Where safety issues are involved, you must ensure that all workers are aware of your dress policy. Spell out penalties for violations of safety-related dress codes.

A dress code does not have to treat men and women exactly the same, as long as the issues addressed are relatively minor. Thus you might prohibit earrings for men but not for women. You could require men, but not women, to wear their hair short.

Accommodating religious attire

Title VII requires you to “reasonably accommodate” workers who want to wear religious clothing as long as it does not impose an “undue hardship” on your business—that is, the accommodation does not affect your com­pany’s image, pose a safety or health risk, adversely affect morale and productivity, force you to show favoritism to a religious employee or violate the law.

You only need to accommodate employee attire needs when they are based on a bona fide belief. To qualify, the belief must only be sincerely held—the employee doesn’t have to be a member of an established religion.

Note: You can specify that religious clothing be neat and clean. And you can require that workers tuck in loose clothing to keep it from getting caught in potentially dangerous machinery.

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