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Does Your Workplace Dress Code Policy Discriminate Against Men?

August 8, 2019

Laura L. Rubenstein

Many employment handbook policies outline, with great specificity, permissible clothing and grooming policies according to gender. For example, it may be permissible for women to wear open-toe shoes, skirts, dresses, cropped pants, and earrings. On the other hand, men must wear long pants, have short hair, and no earrings. Some argue this may be discriminatory.

An article in the Summer 2019 edition of HR Magazine, a publication from the Society for Human Resource Management, suggests that company dress codes based on gender stereotypes (i.e., generalized preconceptions about attributes or characteristics, or the roles that are or ought to be possessed by, or performed by women and men) can get tricky, particularly when a company’s overall grooming policy imposes more burden on one gender over the other. One HR professional interviewed for the article suggested that even though many dress codes are perfectly legal, they can inadvertently decrease morale, alienate employees and increase turnover by requiring gender conformity.

A recent employment trend is to revise written policies so employees “dress for their day.” If there is an important business meeting, employees should understand that professional business attire is needed. But if the employee is working in the back office where she won’t encounter customers or clients, relaxed attire may be perfectly appropriate.

Policies should be reflective of the company culture, appropriate for the particular industry and be written in such a manner that employees understand how to comply. When violations occur and employees report to work wearing clothing that is distracting or which displays offensive words, symbols or messaging, those employees should be pulled aside for a private conversation and sent home to change.

I recently asked a new colleague to join me for a client meeting the following day. When asked what he should wear, I responded, “Dress like a lawyer.” He wore a navy suit and tie. As boring as that may sound, it created the right professional image. He got it.

Here’s hoping that your employees get it too! But, if they don’t, please contact us to discuss best practices to implement changes.

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