Dress codes are changing after the pandemic
As more employees return to workplaces, some employers are rethinking their dress codes. That doesn’t mean abandoning dress codes entirely, but dealing with violations can be tricky.
“COVID has changed the workplace and people tend to dress more casually now,” said Sarah Pawlicki, SHRM-SCP, attorney at Eastman & Smith in Toledo, Ohio. But it’s important that the casual dress doesn’t go overboard, she added.
“Many employees are reluctant to return to the office, so to encourage that return, employers are choosing to relax dress codes,” she said. “However, it’s important to remind employees that what’s right in your home office may not be right in the office.”
Don’t be afraid to update the dress code as the company culture changes, said Emily Tichenor, an attorney at Polsinelli in Denver. “For example, if a company required formal business attire before COVID, but customer expectations for employee attire have changed, consider whether it makes sense to allow a business casual dress code” , she said.
What is inappropriate dress?
In a professional environment, “it is important that employers adapt to the shift towards hybrid working, while ensuring that employees present a clean, neat and professional appearance that is acceptable to customers and reflects the image of the company”, declared Rudi Julius, lawyer. with Thompson Hine in Atlanta.
Appropriate and inappropriate attire depends on the workplace and company culture.
“It would be just as inappropriate to wear a t-shirt and jeans to work in a conservative financial organization as it would be to wear a suit and tie to work on a production line,” Pawlicki said. “In any workplace, it would be inappropriate to wear anything containing vulgar, graphic or offensive language.”
Inappropriate work attire could distract employees from their tasks, leading to a less productive workforce and a potential drop in employee morale, noted Justine Abrams, attorney at Ogletree Deakins in Morristown, NJ.
“Professional employees should always be professional even when they’re casual,” said Michael Elkins, attorney at MLE Law in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Employers should provide employees returning to the workplace with a copy of the current dress code so there is no confusion, he added. .
Managing Dress Code Violations
Dress code violations should be handled in accordance with the industry, job category, content of the employer’s dress code policy and discipline policy, Abrams said.
For example, if a construction worker who must wear composite toe boots shows up at a job site wearing flip-flops, it might be prudent to send the worker home, as allowing the employee to work in these circumstances presents serious security concerns, she said. .
On the other hand, if a bank requires its tellers to wear suit jackets, sports jackets, blazers, or cardigans, and a teller reports to work once wearing a button-up shirt with no jacket, it may be less blatant, she noted. The employer may allow the violation for one day, provided that the employee is properly informed of the violation and the obligation to comply with it in the future.
“Violations must be addressed and documented promptly and appropriately by the employer, and expectations must be openly shared with the employee,” Abrams said.
Elkins warned that “unless the dress code violation is obvious or blatant, it’s generally a good idea for employers not to be overbearing.”
Employers should avoid embarrassing the dress code violator, Julius said. “If possible, address the offender privately and avoid criticism or judgment,” she said.
Pawlicki recommended having a second company official in the room for discussion during sensitive conversations.
Avoid unlawful discrimination
“Clothing can be a wonderful way for employees to express their individuality and start a dialogue about diversity,” Pawlicki said. “Employers should seize this opportunity, recognizing that corporate culture should be the guiding determination rather than traditional notions about gender or race.”
“Do not establish, maintain or enforce dress codes or grooming policies in a way that discriminates against protected characteristics,” Abrams warned. “This can be a tricky rule to follow, as many seemingly neutral dress codes and grooming standards actually expose claims of discrimination.”
For example, requiring women to wear skirts in the workplace while allowing men to wear trousers may constitute sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, it said. -she adds. This is especially true for transgender or gender-nonconforming employees, Abrams said.
Managers and HR need to address dress code violations and do so consistently, she added. Otherwise, the employer risks being exposed to complaints of discrimination.
“Some employers have relaxed their dress codes after the pandemic. If an employer is going to be lenient with employee A about the dress code, then the employer must be prepared to provide the same leniency to employee B,” a- she declared.
“There may be some people whose religious beliefs or disabilities may warrant reasonable accommodations, which means slight deviations from the policy,” Abrams said. Some people may claim, for example, that a general policy prohibiting the display of any tattoos in the workplace constitutes religious discrimination.
“Listen to the employee,” she said. “Don’t rush to judge.”
Two other caveats: First, employers cannot prevent employees from displaying union badges or wearing union clothing unless they can prove a valid reason for the restriction, a recent case from the National Labor Relations Board.
Second, public employees may have more rights to express themselves through their dress because of the First Amendment protections that apply to them.