In the professional world, your first impression will last. Many might say the way you look at work doesn’t matter; it’s only your capability and knowledge that counts. The quality of your work might be the most important thing but your appearance also leaves an immediate impression on your colleagues, including management. Hence many companies encourage a defined dress code to maintain a professional image of themselves and the business, where employees routinely interact on a daily basis with prospects, clients and business partners. The major reason why dressing in proper business attire is important for every business professional is because it presents a visual image and sends a message that the employees are professional. Another reason why dressing in proper business attire is important in the business world is because you never know when you will be required to meet with someone from outside your company. Your image to this outsider will be the image remembered of your company. In business dealings, this image and message need to be professional. In reality, that image could indirectly mean the difference between securing a new deal, contract or sale and losing the opportunity to make that deal.
Conflicts arise when employees prefer to dress comfortably or in the most recent styles rather than realize the importance for them to present themselves in a more professional or conservative manner. Nowadays, as we are seeing employees having beards, tattoos, and piercings which makes it all the more important for organizations to ensure that your organizational dress code addresses the grooming, hygiene and body art amongst other things. The question now is: What makes the dress code policy and grooming guidelines similar or different? Let us try and find that out.
Difference between dress code and grooming
Dress code policy and grooming guidelines are not much dissimilar. In fact, both of them are complementary to each other. In other words, your grooming guidelines should complement your dress code policy by addressing the personal hygiene issues beyond the attire.
Grooming can be considered as something that has to do with adaptations or applications to the body itself. While the dress code is more concerned about what is worn on the body.
Need for effective grooming and dress code standards
Developing effective grooming standards and guidelines can help you reinforce your business’s dress code and ensure that your company is perceived in a positive light. Specifically, when you include well-crafted grooming guidelines in your dress code policy, it allows your business to:
- It upholds and ensures consistent company standards. A dress code alone will often fall short if it doesn’t communicate expectations for employees’ personal grooming. What good does it do for an employee to wear suitable attire to work without following good grooming practices? Even the sharpest three-piece suit won’t make up for poor hygiene.
- It minimizes distractions and preserves productivity. When you have a standard for employee grooming, it allows your workforce to concentrate on job priorities without unnecessary distractions. After all, an employee whose excessive perfume triggers their coworker’s allergy attack may be as disruptive as someone who talks too much or too loudly at work.
- Effective grooming standards reflect core company values. Your Company’s grooming and dress code standards should be in line with your target market, and they should reflect your core values. For example, if your client base is typically conservative, your dress code policy and grooming guidelines might require business attire with neatly trimmed beards and no visible body art. Know your customer and dress accordingly.
- It ensures a safe work environment. Grooming standards aren’t just important for your company’s image – sometimes they also impact workplace safety. For instance, if you have employees who work with or around equipment, motors or other mechanical devices, hair length and personal accessories can pose a safety concern.
(Read More: Workplace Diversity: Benefits and Challenges)
Many employers choose to adopt dress code policies that promote a particular atmosphere or experience for customers and clients. Generally speaking, employers are allowed to require that employees dress professionally, keep a neat and clean appearance, or wear uniforms that clearly designate them as employees. However, there are limits to this right. Employers may not adopt dress or grooming codes that discriminate against particular employees based on a protected characteristic, such as race, gender, or disability. So let us explains some common discrimination claims that might arise from an employer’s appearance policies and how can they be avoided.
1. Sex Discrimination
Courts have consistently found that employers may adopt different appearance policies for men and women, as long as those policies don’t place a significantly larger burden on one gender. Some employers, for example, prohibit men from wearing makeup while allowing or even requiring women to do so. Some employers require all employees to dress professionally but designate different norms for men and women. Such policies are not considered discriminatory unless prohibited by state law. In California, for example, women must be allowed to wear pants at work, so a dress code that required women to wear a dress or skirt would not pass legal muster.
A dress code that requires much more of one gender than the other may be illegal. If, for example, an employer had no dress code for men but required women to dress in professional attire, that would likely be discriminatory. Similarly, a dress code that was much more expensive for one gender than the other could be discriminatory. For instance, if women could choose their own garments but men had to purchase expensive uniforms, that might be illegal sex discrimination.
As binary gender norms face increasing scrutiny, these rules may change. Transgender employees, employees who are not gender-conforming, and employees who place their gender on a wide spectrum of options rather than identifying as either “male” or “female” are increasingly challenging traditional cultural notions of gender. For now, however, courts typically allow employers to make these distinctions.
Employers should also be aware that certain policies might have a discriminatory effect, even if that is not their intent.
2. Religious Discrimination
Under federal law, most employers must make reasonable accommodations to allow employees to practice their religions. Some employees have religious beliefs that require particular grooming or dress, such as not cutting their hair, wearing particular garments, or wearing certain religious objects.
Your company must make exceptions to its usual dress code to allow for such religious expression unless it would create undue hardship for the company. For example, suppose your company prohibits all employees working with heavy machinery from wearing dangling jewelry, for safety reasons. If an employee’s religious beliefs require her to wear a crucifix, for example, your company might need to make an exception and allow the employee to wear it underneath her shirt while in proximity to machinery.
3. Disability Discrimination
Certain dress requirements might also be challenging for an employee with a particular disability. For example, a uniform made of tough, scratchy material might cause problems for an employee who uses a wheelchair. In this situation, your company must accommodate employees by modifying the rules, unless doing so would create an undue hardship. In the case of the employee who uses a wheelchair, you might allow the employee to wear more comfortable clothing of a similar color and function.
(For more on this topic, see reasonable accommodations under the ADA.)
4. Race and National Origin Discrimination
Of course, employers may not adopt different dress codes for employees of different races or ethnicities. Employers also may not ban employees from wearing a traditional ethnic dress (such as a sari, Kente cloth, or native Hawaiian dress) as long as it otherwise conforms to the employer’s policies.
Employers should also be aware that certain policies might have a discriminatory effect, even if that is not their intent. For example, African American employees have challenged employer policies that require all employees to be clean-shaven, because African American men are more likely to have a skin condition that makes shaving painful. Courts have upheld these challenges, finding that employers may not adopt policies that have a disproportionately negative effect on members of a certain race or national origin.
Even after formulating the dress code policy and grooming guidelines, if an employee’s dressing and grooming habits prove to a big headache for your organization, consider releasing an organization-wide memo providing the workplace expectations when it comes to personal hygiene and appearance. This will give the individual an opportunity to correct the dressing and grooming issues before you call him/her out publicly. In case, this does not resolve the concern, meet him/her personally and discuss your organization’s expectations in terms of dress code and grooming guidelines and resolve the situation in an amicable manner.