Tips for Crafting a Workplace Dress Code Policy
Team Meeting
May 8, 2018

With the summer almost upon us, as an organization you may begin to see employees dressing more casually and their grooming efforts wane. Some of the outfits or piercings may be out of place, in your opinion, and without a viable Grooming or Workplace Dress Code Policy, it may be difficult to enforce an employee’s attire.

The best practice is to craft a policy that requires employees to maintain a neat, clean, professional appearance. The policy should also accommodate individual employee’s religious needs and be cognizant of transgender employee needs.

Employers can create a differentiation in dress and grooming requirements for men and women, as long as the policy does not disproportionately burden either sex. If you allow female employees to have long hair without any restrictions, then you will need to allow male employees the same courtesy. If female employees are allowed to wear earrings to work, then you have to also allow their male counterparts to do the same. A court recently found that a grooming code requiring different hair lengths for male and female employees or job applicants treated them differently as a result of a sex stereotype. If you are a retail establishment that serves food, your grooming policy may require that long hair be put up and secured from the face, or a hat should be worn versus a different policy for female and male servers.

It is always a good practice to clearly spell out what garments are acceptable for a female and male employee to wear as well as those items that are permissible in the workplace. Some examples of things to be worn are:

  • Clothes that you would not wear to the beach
  • Casual sandals
  • Neat blue jeans
  • Shirts with collars are permissible

Some examples of what should not be worn are:

  • Jeans that are torn or ripped
  • Flip flop sandals
  • Tee shirts with catchy phrases;
  • Leggings of any type

Make sure that you are specific enough in what is permissible and what is not, so that people understand what they can and cannot wear.

You may want to revisit your dress code each year as grooming and dress styles change and what was considered to be unreasonable dress or grooming, may have made its way into the accepted category. Open toed sandals come to mind – once they were not allowed in many work establishments, and with the new styles, they are acceptable in some workplaces.

Religious Accommodations

If an employee dresses a certain way because of a sincerely held religious belief, employers may be obligated to accommodate the dress practices, depending on whether the accommodation would cause an undue hardship on the company. But, be careful what you consider an undue hardship because recently the courts have stated that a tattoo which symbolized devotion to a religion was not an undue hardship for a restaurant because it was not in violation of the “no tattoo” policy. The courts believed that the tattoo would not diminish the establishment’s wholesome image. Conversely, when an employee at a large retail establishment claimed that she wore a specific ear piercing because of religious beliefs, the court stated that the company provided a reasonable accommodation to cover the piercing during work hours. Absent a bona fide safety concern, an employer probably should not restrict certain religious practices.

Transgender Discrimination

Some states recognize discrimination regarding transgender issues as a protected category. Connecticut is one of those states. Be careful when approaching an employee, who may be transitioning to the opposite sex, about their dress and grooming choices. It could be construed as sex stereotyping or sex discrimination if you do not accommodate the transgender employee. As an employer, you can uniformly enforce your grooming and dress code standards. However, to avoid liability, you should recognize the self-identified gender of the employee, regardless of surgery or documentation. The transgender employee should be permitted to dress in accordance with the standard appropriate to his or her gender identity.

Tips to Remember

  • If you have a policy on grooming and dress, follow it uniformly.
  • Make sure that your policy is gender neutral, unless there is a reason for specific clothing
    for a particular position. Restaurants may have different uniforms for males and females.
  • Any specific grooming or dress specifics should be able to be backed up by a legitimate
    business reason.
  • Remember that your policies should not disadvantage any group of employees.
  • It is permissible to differentiate between grooming requirements for men and women as
    long as it doesn’t disproportionally burden either sex.
  • List the garments that are acceptable and unacceptable for female and male employees to
  • Pay special attention to religious accommodations and transgender issues.
Carol Kardas

Carol Kardas


With 25+ years of generalist HR experience, Carol's focus includes compensation, training, and employee relations. She has advanced HR certifications: SPHR, CCP, SHRM-SCP.


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