As I write this, the heat index in Washington DC, where I live, is close to 100 degrees. It is sweltering, humid and downright miserable. So I reflected on our staff, and the thousands of others suffering in the dog days of summer, and how employers relax their dress codes – and more importantly how even a relaxed dress code can be abused or create a recipe for sexual harassment in the workplace.
In fact, employees across the country are rolling up their sleeves and perhaps even wearing tank tops, shorts, halter dresses, shoes with no socks, or flip-flops to work. But are they exposing more skin, tattoos, and/or piercing than is appropriate?
Workplace attire is a rising issue among most employers. How the employees dress and present themselves to clients can have an impact on your business. In fact, it can even affect your employee’s health and safety.
While conservative workplace attire has been the norm for many years, many employers have relaxed their year round dress codes in an effort to perk up morale and improve employee retention. Casual dress codes are more prevalent in the workplace in response to employees’ requests for relaxed, flexible work environments. In fact, according to a 2013 Society for Human Resource Management employee benefits survey, 23% of organizations now allow casual seasonal dress.
As the summer temperatures start to rise, and more tolerance is given or standards relaxed, now is the appropriate time to remind your employees about what is permitted when it comes to the summer dress code policy.
Here’s something you may want to consider. It comes as a surprise to most employers that discrimination laws may limit your choices on what is appropriate workplace dress for your organization. This means that you have wide discretion when it comes to setting appearance standards, so long as they do not violate an employee’s religious or ethnic beliefs, practices, or physical disability.
For example, you may enforce regulations such as those barring tattoos or piercings. Although tattoos and piercings may be examples of employee self-expression, they are not usually a form of religious or racial expression and hence not restricted under the federal discrimination laws.
However, certain dress codes and appearance restrictions may be termed discriminatory if they interfere with an employee’s observance of religious practices such as head coverings, or target a particular group of employees such as women, those who experience physical disabilities, or minorities.
Can your business’s dress code prohibit jeans, shorts, short skirts, t-shirts with logos or advertising, halter dresses, tight-fitting clothes, exercise attire, flip-flops? Short answer—Yes. Even the most casual businesses expect their employees to use common sense in selecting business attire no matter what the weather.
One issue that seems to always come to play in relaxed summer attire is that tattoos never before seen in the workplace get revealed, and frankly they should stay covered. And before anyone starts screaming that this is discrimination due to the tattoo, I want to say that, yes, yes it probably is. But discrimination, in and of itself, is not illegal, nor immoral. Hopefully your workplace discriminates against people who are incompetent or lazy. Tattoos are something you choose to get; they are not an innate characteristic. Some people just don’t like them. Anyone choosing to spend their time and money getting jabbed repeatedly with a needle full of ink on a conspicuous patch of skin should be aware of the fact that it may have some effect on their future.