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Tips for developing an employee dress code

Workplace attire has grown increasingly casual over the years. Long gone are the Mad Men days when men all wore suits and ties and women wore dresses and high heels -- even if they never left the workplace or interacted with customers or clients.

However, maybe you're "business casual" policy has devolved into an increasing number of employees wearing tank tops, flip-flops, torn jeans and t-shirts with questionable slogans. Even if they're not seeing having meetings with clients in the office, you'd like a more professional workplace. How do you develop a dress code, and what potential legal pitfalls should you watch out for?

Typically, it's best to have some employee input. This can help make enforcement easier. Get a feel for what is reasonable. Your employees shouldn't have to go out and buy a whole new wardrobe to abide by it. Maybe you can just limit some extremely casual clothing choices or clothes that have any kind of message on them.

If some of your employees have regular customer contact while others don't, you may need to have more than one dress code based on their job. If employees in one department are regularly doing physical work, you may want to have a more relaxed dress code for them but one that helps them stay safe (like closed-toed shoes). The important thing is to enforce any dress code(s) consistently for all employees that it impacts.

Employers can get into serious trouble when they forbid certain types of ethnic or religious dress. Certainly, if a person's religion requires them to wear something like a head covering, that should not be forbidden. It's also typically best not to have one dress code for women and another for men.

If you get into hair, jewelry and other accessories, you could be asking for trouble. Unless it's a safety issue, it's often best not to address these at all.

An experienced employment law attorney can help you develop a dress code that meets your needs, is reasonable for your employees and isn't discriminatory. They can also provide guidance for enforcing your dress code consistently. All of this can save you considerable problems later on.

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