If you ever get frustrated with dress code issues, spare a thought for the managers at Disney, responsible for ensuring that male employees’ mustaches must line up exactly with the corners of his mouth, and female staffers fingernails are maintained at a strict one-quarter inch in length. This isn’t the only company with a crazy dress code—imagine trying to police the policy from Swiss bank UBS that employees apply perfume while naked and immediately after showering!
Although your dress code policy is probably much more conventional, that doesn’t mean you won’t be faced with employees who flout it. If you don’t deal immediately with the issue, other staff members will feel that the rules aren’t important.
Step One: Raise Awareness
Make sure employees know about the policy. While longtime staffers might know the rules, consider how you let new employees know. If the policy isn’t already written, include the details in the employee handbook and provide regular reminders to staff. Giving examples of the types of dress that would not be acceptable is important—particularly if your policy is fairly generic.
- Conversation Tip: “Staff should be dressed professionally and appropriately for the workplace. Open-toe shoes, like flip flops and sandals, are not appropriate for our operations and are a safety concern.”
Step Two: Respond to Complaints
Often the first notification you receive about a dress code violation is a complaint from another employee. Review the dress of the employee who is alleged to have violated the rules, and decide if the complaint is accurate.
Step Three: Talk to the Employee
Don’t embarrass the employee in front of coworkers. Instead, ask the employee to meet with you in a private office or conference room, away from coworkers.
- Conversation Tip: “Can you step into my office for a second? I need to talk with you about the dress code.”
Some staff members will be defensive about perceived violations and will be unreceptive to your comments. Avoid judgment or criticism about the clothing—keep a neutral, calm tone. Don’t make jokes—even if you think you’re lightening the mood, the employee may believe you are ridiculing their choices and personal style.
- Conversation Tip: “I asked to meet with you because your outfit violates the dress code. This isn’t anything personal about your choices, just that the company doesn’t permit hats or shirts with slogans. Did you realize your outfit violated the policy?”
Step Four: Reasons and Accommodations
Try to identify if there was a reason the employee violated the code. In some circumstances, a worker’s religious beliefs or disability may mean they want to wear an item that violates the code. An employer is not necessarily obligated to relax the regulations just because an employee asks, but you should definitely examine the employee’s reasons, consider the issues and identify any other acceptable solutions before making a final decision.
- Conversation Tip: “Is there a particular reason you need to wear a hat? Please let me know if you’re seeking an exemption to the policy so we can consider if that’s a possibility.”
Step Five: Fix the Problem
Direct the employee to correct her outfit. If the issue is superficial—excessive jewelry or a hat, for example—the employee can simply remove the offending item until the end of her shift. Tops and t-shirts that violate the code can be covered with a jacket, or if the company has spare uniforms, you can simply lend one to the worker for the day. But if the employee’s entire outfit needs to be replaced, you may need to send them home to change.
- Conversation Tip: “Do you have a spare outfit you can change into? Otherwise, I’m going to have to send you home to change your skirt.”
Step Six: Sending the Employee Home
Let employees know that the company will not tolerate violations of the dress code by sending the employee home to change if there is no other way to fix the issue. Depending on what time of day the violation was discovered, or how far the employee lives from the workplace, they may want to take the remainder of the day off.
You are not required to compensate the employee for the time taken to return home and change.
- Conversation Tip: “You won’t get paid for the time it takes to travel home and change, but if you would prefer, you can use your accrued vacation time.”
Step Seven: Further Violations
Isolated, unintentional incidents are unlikely to present a problem, but if your employee continues to ignore the policy, you’ll need to discipline them.
- Conversation Tip: “In future, you are required to abide by the dress code. If you have any question about whether an item might violate the code, you should check with a supervisor or manager before you wear it to work. If you continue to disregard the policy, it will lead to discipline, up to and including termination.”