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Best Practices for Your Business’s Dress Code

Drafting a business’s handbook is an arduous process, but it’s an accomplishment that is often a relief to complete. Right now, it may be time to go back and review your company’s dress code section.

Social trends and laws in the area of gender equity, gender discrimination, and gender identity are moving at warp speed. And if your business’s practices are out of date, you could be caught with your pants down, proverbially speaking, of course. According to the EEOC, 25,605 sex-based charges were filed in 2017. To keep your company from becoming part of this statistic, here are a few things to review.

Keep It Neutral

When drafting a dress code, less is more. No, not less clothes. Less rules.

Try to stay generic and use terms like “professionally appropriate attire,” rather than skirts, dresses, etc. By stating that women need to wear skirts or dresses, or that men must wear tailored shirts and slacks, a company could be treading into the dangerous and sometimes murky waters of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which protects employees against discrimination on the basis of their gender.

Also note that there are state laws protecting what workers can wear, and if you do business in a state, you are subject to its rules. Did you know that California has a rule that specifically allows employees to wear pants in the workplace? State rules can be very specific, and there are 50 states to keep track of. A worker should be able to wear whatever clothes he or she deems professional, without having the constraints of a list, especially a gender-specific list. Yes, this might mean that a woman wears slacks, and possibly that a man wears skirts. But if it is done professionally, it should be alright.

And Not Just the Clothes

In keeping the code neutral, steer clear of grooming pitfalls. A company may require employees to come to work professionally groomed, so long as it doesn’t place an undue burden on one gender. For instance, if men are required to come looking “clean and kept,” women cannot be required to come with makeup, jewelry, and stockings. Even placing a difference between men and women, regardless of burden, can become an issue with respect to gender-fluid individuals. Again, it’s best to keep it neutral, and refer to facial or physical appearances as “clean and kept.”

If you are unsure whether your corporate handbook contains dress codes that violate Title VII or various state laws, contact a local employment lawyer today. A legally trained expert can view your policies in light of current laws in all the states in which you do business, and give you either peace of mind, or a few tips to implement.

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