4 summer fashion tips for the workplace
By Dan Cook
Ah, summertime. People relax a bit, having survived winter. But your dress code shouldn’t. In fact, a dress code that promotes productivity and prevents litigation should probably be pretty tough on summertime attire.
Advice on crafting such a policy is available from all kinds of sources. Lawyers are going to say one thing as they seek to avoid clothing-related legal actions. Management consultants are likely to offer tips that will be tailored more to avoiding distractions. And then there are health-conscious sources who will tell you that summer dress codes need to take into consideration the way heat and humidity affect people on the job.
A dress code should be based on four criteria: common sense, health, safety and, most important of all, productivity.
Thus, we share Four Summer Fashion Tips, from Top to Bottom.
1. Have a dress code that takes summer into account, and give everyone a copy.
OK, first, you do have a dress code, right? Because it turns out a lot of companies don’t. But let’s assume you have one. (For those of you in Miami, L.A., San Diego and Phoenix, you get a free pass on this.) Erika Cagney of Day Pitney LLP recommends referring to “overly casual and revealing clothing” as language that can particularly be applied to summer attire.
You can specifically ban flip-flops, shorts and tank tops, as well as other attire your team and legal counsel believes would fail fairness, religious and discrimination tests.
The basic concept is to cover up in summer what you covered up in winter. If employees are going to the beach or the company picnic (another potential sartorial nightmare) right after work, tell folks to bring a change of clothes and get comfy after work.
Then, make sure everyone has seen the policy, especially your managers.
“It is vital that the policy be memorialized in writing and circulated companywide,” she says. “If this crucial step is not taken, not only may employees have a less-than-clear understanding of the rules, but managers and supervisors could be forced to make subjective judgment calls that could result in employees claiming they have been subject to discriminatory treatment.” 2. Limit the potential for clothing-related “distractions.”
“The productivity levels within the business may be reduced if employees are dressed in a manner that is distracting to themselves or others,” says Human Resources News. Unknowingly, your code may be encouraging distractions by trying to be too open-minded in its tone — especially if that tone is “business casual.”
Attorney Dave Monks warns employers that endorsing a “business casual” theme in a dress code can lead to warm-weather problems. “The already wide latitude available under many ‘casual attire’ policies can be stretched further by employees,” he says. Bare female midriffs, open-toed sandals, unbottoned men’s shirts and so on not only invite employee attention to wander from work, but can cause behavior that leads to trouble.
“The existence of more revealing clothes increases the risk of inappropriate comments and other conduct that can potentially give rise to claims of sexual harassment,” Monks says.
If co-workers are distracted by one another’s attire, it could lead to office gossip. If one person “gets away” with a-too revealing fashion statement, others may decide it’s OK and wear similar outfits. The relaxed clothing code can potentially set the tone for relaxed customer relations, never a good thing.
“These problems would adversely affect public image and workplace relationships,” he says. 3. One code covers everyone.
Monks advises employers to “enforce the dress code in a consistent manner. Make sure employees know the consequences of noncompliance.”
If there are religious-based exceptions, for instance, then the exception should be applied only to the person or persons who profess to have that religious belief. If you’re trying to avoid the wearing of baseball caps to the office in the summer, but also employ people whose religion requires them to cover their heads, then be specific: ban baseball caps but include a religious exception in the written policy.
For enforcing your code, you need to include noncompliance consequences in it. Penalties for violating the code can’t be left up to a manager’s whim. The last thing you want is for one person to be told, “Just don’t dress like that tomorrow,” while another is sent home to change. HR has to be willing to notify residents of the C-Suite if one of them violates the code. Any inconsistencies in enforcing the code will undermine it and could lead to formal complaints or even litigation.
4. Separate codes for outdoor workers.
We’ve just told you to make sure everyone covers up and buttons up. But that’s for the air-conditioned workplace. What about employees who must work out of doors at least part of the time in the summer heat?
Again, your dress code must specifically address such situations. Consultants emphasize that employee health has to be reflected in the code. So if your code bans baseball caps and other types of headgear in the office, it should specifically say such headgear is OK and perhaps even make wearing a hat mandatory attire for those working all day in the sun.
Shorts and tank tops may be no-nos in the air-conditioned office. But for a team of outdoors recreational workers, you may want to offer them as approved wear. If you have folks working on a road crew and you want them to be safe from summer traffic, you should include in the code that these workers must wear bright reflective clothing that you will provide.
Again, as with the other items on the list, exceptions and special situations need to be written into the code and shared with everyone.