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Summer & Casual Dress Codes: What NOT to Wear to Work

(posted: May 30th, 2017)

Summer dress code


As temperatures heat up and summer approaches, people start shedding layers of clothing. Don't leave employees guessing as to what's acceptable to wear to work in the summer.

If you don't have a separate summer dress code policy, you probably should, as types of clothing change in the warmer months, and people tend to feel like they can wear more relaxed styles. You want a policy that encourages workers to wear comfortable clothing, which will boost morale, but it's important to include specific examples of what's inappropriate to make sure employees don't offend coworkers or lose clients.

A summer dress code policy will ideally strike a balance between employee comfort, health and safety, and what is culturally appropriate for your specific business.

Keep in mind that people often use clothing to express their personalities or identities, and what one worker thinks is inoffensive may actually offend another. Being vague in your policy, with statements like "Employees should use good judgment in their choice of attire" or "business casual attire" leaves too much room for argument. Instead, make sure that your policy clearly defines key terms using gender-neutral language and specific examples.

Some examples of appropriate summer attire:

  • Short-sleeved shirts
  • T-shirts (solid color only)
  • Tennis shoes
  • Jeans (clean and not torn)
  • Midthigh-length shorts

Examples of some items you might call out in your policy as inappropriate include:

  • Tank top shirts or tops or dresses with "spaghetti" straps
  • T-shirts with logos or text
  • Swimsuits
  • Cutoff or ripped shorts (or skirts)
  • Skirts shorter than just above knee length
  • Flip-flops or open-toed sandals or shoes

The items on your lists will be different, taking into account your company culture and the client-facing nature of your business.

Depending on the industry and type of business, employees in client-facing positions may be expected to dress differently than those in back-office administrative jobs.

Employees in potentially hazardous environments such as manufacturing, warehouses, or shipping may have specific dress requirements imposed by occupational safety and health laws. These statutes require certain classes of workers to wear personal protective equipment, reflective clothing and/or steel-toed safety boots.

Handling Dress Code Violations

When there are summer dress code violations, conversations about the infractions can be awkward. If an employee is actually exposing too much flesh, you may want to start with a discreet conversation with the individual in private. It would be considerate to have a manager of the same sex as the employee hold this meeting, because it can be a very embarrassing conversation.

It is important that the supervisor or manager offer clear-cut guidelines about how to avoid issues in the future. They may specify during the conversation, for example, that "necklines must be no lower than 1 1/2 inches below the neck" or "skirts must be no shorter than 1 inch above the knee."

On a first offense, the employee may just be asked why the violation occurred. This question is intended to identify whether the employee thought what he or she wore was in compliance or just didn't give it any thought. A second violation would require some level of corrective or disciplinary action.

The dress code policy should state that the company reserves the right to request that employees who violate the policy's standards will be sent home to change clothes. The changing time can be unpaid for hourly, nonexempt employees.

But if an exempt employee is sent home, he or she still must be paid his or her guaranteed minimum salary for that day, so you are effectively paying for the time the employee spends to go home, change and return to work. You'll need to weigh the value of this choice.

Casual Friday or Floating Casual Day

Having a casual-dress policy for an entire season might not be a good fit for some companies. If you feel that the seasonal approach isn't viable, you might try having a floating casual day or casual Fridays.

With a floating casual day, employees may choose which day of the week they want to dress casually.

However, letting each employee decide which day will be their casual day can be impractical and chaotic for supervisors. Instead, consider designating one day, like Casual Tuesdays, or, in companies where it makes sense within the culture, let the employees vote on which day will be the casual dress day for each month.

If you have a summer work schedule with Fridays off, the casual day could be moved to Thursday or Monday for the summer.

Summer dress codes and days when casual attire is allowed can both be great ways to boost employee morale and can help with employee retention. Just make sure that you are giving specific do's and don'ts, and that you are clear about the consequences of violating the policies.

Please Contact Us for help crafting your company dress code.

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