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The Do’s and Don’ts of Summer Office Fashion and Employee Rights

Now that more businesses are beginning to reopen after the COVID-19 lockdown, employees who have been working from home for the past three months wearing shorts and t-shirts – or maybe even pajamas – are returning back to the office.

Although many employers relax their dress codes in summer a little anyway, some employees coming back to work may seem a little “too relaxed.”

So how do you enforce a professional, yet weather appropriate dress code in the office? And what do you need to know about your employees’ rights when it comes to how they dress. Here are a few Do’s and Don’ts.

Do: Take a look at your current dress code policies.

Are they in writing or are they just understood? To avoid any confusion or embarrassment, it is important that dress code expectations are in writing and readily available to all staff members.

Do: Be specific.

If you want to allow golf/polo shirts and short sleeved blouses but not t-shirts, then state that specifically in your company dress code. Or if you want to allow denim – but only dark wash denim without holes in it – then you’ll need to state that as well.

Don’t: Have one dress code for men and another for women.

To do so violates the Ontario Human Rights Code and may make some of your staff uncomfortable in the workplace.

Don’t: Assume all employees know the dress code.

Just because you have a dress code policy available in writing, don’t assume that all of your employees have read or remember it. When the season changes (or if you start to notice more frequent dress code violations), it is a smart idea to send out a reminder.

Do: Set an example.

If you expect your more junior staff to follow a dress code, it is important for the management team to follow it as well. When junior staff see management bending the rules on a regular basis, they may think that it’s ok for them to do the same.

Do: Listen to your staff.

Fashion evolves over time and what may not have been considered appropriate office attire a few years ago, might be more acceptable today. Listen to your staff and get their feedback.

Do: Be careful about any policies against visible tattoos.

Some tattoos are protected by the Ontario Human Rights Code as they are part of a person’s religion or culture. But in cases where tattoos are for self-expression only, there have also been several court cases in Canada where an employer’s prohibition against visible tattoos has been deemed unreasonable.

Don’t: Leave enforcement of the dress code to untrained managers.

Especially in larger companies, you don’t want to have a situation where the dress code is interpreted one way in one department and another way in another department. Instead, review the dress code with your entire management team to make sure that you are all on the same page.

It’s also very important to train your managers in how to address dress code violations as conversations with employees about their appearance can easily slip into the territory of sexual harassment.

Do: Consider your company’s needs.

Every company is unique and a summer dress code that works in one office may not work for another. Some offices might function perfectly well allowing golf shirts and even dressy shorts, while others might need to keep up with the dress shirts and simply ditch the jacket.

If you have questions or concerns about your company’s dress code and your employees’ rights, we are here to help. Contact us today for a consultation or call 905-477-7011.  Sign up for our newsletter to receive up-to-date information on employment law developments, including new legislation and Court decisions impacting your workplace.

Minken Employment Lawyers is your source for expert advice and advocacy on today’s employment law issues.

Please note that this article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.

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