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MANAGING STAFF

Now’s the time to enforce your summer dress code

After a long, cold winter, who doesn’t look forward to a long, hot summer? For office managers, however, summer brings a new set of challenges, including what staff members wear to the office.

Ah yes, warm weather work attire. Ultra-sheer blouses, midriff tops, plunging necklines, short skirts, shorts, and flip-flops.

Whatever are they thinking?

If you don’t have a summer dress code policy, your practice is at the mercy of an individual’s fashion sense, which may not coincide with good business sense.

Establishing guidelines

Depending where in the country your practice is located, so-called summer clothing may be year round attire. Still, even in warmer climes, people tend to dress more casually during the summer months.

Nevertheless, you can ensure that the line between business and backyard barbecue attire doesn’t get crossed by taking a few simple steps:

  • create a summer dress code policy;
  • circulate the policy annually; and
  • remind employees why the policy exists.

Getting specific

When it comes to the policy, make sure you are specific.

“Let employees know what is expected and what will and will not be tolerated in the office,” says Mary Lake, an HR consultant with HR Advisors Group.

It helps to provide examples of appropriate attire, as well as what the practice considers inappropriate.

Here are suggestions for conveying what is and is not acceptable:

  • Appropriate summer attire for women may include sleeveless summer tops, with a jacket or cardigan. By contrast, a midriff top or a sheer blouse is inappropriate for the office.
  • Appropriate shoes for women may include open-toed shoes or dress sandals. Thong-like sandals or flip-flops are considered inappropriate for the office.
  • For men, button-front short-sleeve shirts are considered professional and are therefore appropriate. T-shirts and golf shirts are inappropriate for the office.

This level of detail is necessary to ensure that staff members understand the practice’s interpretation of professional, appropriate, and acceptable attire. Don’t make assumptions that everyone’s interpretation of these terms is the same.

It’s helpful when sharing the policy to let employees know they should err on the side of caution. They should be told that if they question whether an article of clothing is appropriate for the office, they shouldn’t wear it. They can later ask whether it is acceptable; and, if the answer is yes, wear the item another day.

Enforcing the policy

A policy is only useful if it’s enforced. And policies, including summer dress code policies, must be uniformly (no pun intended) enforced.

Just because Jennifer is 22 years old and looks like a fashion model in a short skirt and cropped top is no reason to let Jennifer violate the policy. What happens if you look the other way and then Margaret, age 55 and overweight, decides to duplicate the look? If you cite Margaret for inappropriate attire after letting Jennifer slide, Margaret can claim age discrimination, and she may also be able to claim discrimination based on her weight. The moral of the story is one policy for all staff members.

Deciding how you will enforce the policy is important, and a little tricky. Will you send the employee home to change clothes? Give her or him a first-time warning? Base your decision on how inappropriate the attire is?

Make sure you spell this out in your policy as well. Something to the effect that at the manager’s discretion, the employee may be given a written warning or sent home to change clothes should suffice.

With proper attention to detail ahead of time, you won’t have to sweat the small stuff during the summer months—and staff members can remain cool and comfortable, while looking professional.


Editor’s picks:

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What to wear to a business conference


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