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Claim your Basic Employee Rights, Issue #04
July 07, 2009


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Date July 7, 2009

Issue #04



What is a workplace dress code?

Workplace dress codes are values employers create to guide their employees about what’s suitable to wear on the job. There are different dress codes for different workplace situations. The varieties of employee dress policies involve casual, business casual and business formal. How employees look on the job in my humble opinion is nothing more than a "costume" designed to project a specific image. The particular type of employee dress code is normally determined by how much contact workers have with the public.

Thirty years ago when I began my career in banking, there’s no way my company would have allowed flip flops, torn open knee jeans, shorts, halter tops and more, as acceptable business attire even on "casual Friday". I'm talking about the minimal customer contact positions such as mine in computer operations.

This type of dress would have been unthinkable in front line customer service banking such as loan officers and tellers. However, in the last fifteen years or so I’ve noticed a distinct shift in what employers expect in employee dress. For example, major companies and local governments in my area have a "business casual" code that includes flip flops, flimsy sandals, shorts, Capri pants and what I call "glorified house shoes or slides".

Companies that have large female workforces have been at greatest risk of gender bias when it comes to dress codes. Dress codes can be different for men and women in the workplace as long as the standard for both genders are "reasonable" for the kind of business at issue. The (EEOC) Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the court system handle gender discrimination charges involving dress code issues like;

  • short skirts
  • facial hair and beards
  • hair length
  • pants
  • traditional ethnic dress such as African or Indian

In recent years ethnic, cultural and sexual preference grooming issues are also being drawn into the question of an appropriate workplace dress code. Employees that sport afros, dreadlocks, corn rolls, plats, ponytails, multi-colored hair, tattoos, body piercing and more are finding themselves at odds with employer dress codes. This in turn puts employers at risk of race, gender, religious and disability discrimination lawsuits.

If a company has a dress code policy that treats groups differently it will have to provide a legitimate business excuse for it and offer reasonable accommodations for employees negatively impacted by it. I've had "white collar" jobs and "blue collar" jobs and each has been very inconsistent in explaining during the interview process what the specific business dress should be if any. California makes it illegal for companies preventing women from wearing pants in the workplace.

Any dress code should be communicated clearly to all in the workplace affected by it. Plainly stating what the dress code is and isn't has to outline appropriate guidelines for employees to follow and any disciplinary action they can expect for failing to abide by it. All disciplinary actions for violating a dress code must be accurately documented and applied to all employees equally.

As an employee I review very carefully and make sure I understand any and all company supplied policies, procedures and guidelines including dress codes. If my employer's dress code contains words like "required", "must be/have" or "mandatory" instead of words such as "requested" or "recommended", then I'm going to scrutinize the penalties for dress code violations VERY carefully.

WHY? Courts will look at any adverse employment action such as reprimands, demotions, transfers, terminations, etc. based on dress code, as needing to be justified by a legitimate workplace safety or health consideration. If I lose my job because my employer doesn't like my mustache it may have to show my mustache posed some health or safety risk either to myself and co-workers.

So what is casual dress? As I mentioned earlier the "casual dress" trend in recent years seems to have spiraled out of control and many employers are now scrambling to put the "genie back into the bottle". We may soon see employers’ attempting to undo the “casual dress” phenomenon because of the complications of deciding what suitable workplace clothing is.

All the Best,



Top Tips!


FMLA and absenteeism

Has your boss threatened you over problems with absenteeism? Now for sure if you are abusing your employer's leave policy you are asking for negative consequences. However, in the U.S., if you submit a FMLA form for the absence your company cannot discipline you for it. The leave does not need to be extended for say several days. The FMLA can be for one, two days or even a couple of the first hours of work.

How to use FMLA;


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Written by Yancey Thomas Jr.


(c)copyright 2009


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