Implementing a Dress Code: Part 1 – Introduction

9 mins read

This article is written to discuss dress codes and what to consider when implementing one in your workplace.

Most companies have a dress code implemented to ensure employees dress according to how employers want their workforce and business image to be perceived. The most common dress codes are: business formal, business professional, business casual, and casual.

A company’s dress code policy will vary depending on the culture, industry, or work environment. Some industries have set limitations as they are required to follow certain health and safety measures per legislation. Other industries may want their employees to wear branded uniforms so that their employees stand out from the general public.

Some businesses may have varied dress codes in which corporate employees are required to wear business formal as there can be a lot of foot traffic with other legal, corporate, or government officials, and want everyone to put their best foot forward in presenting themselves; while the field operations employees are able to wear more casual clothing as they may be required to put on PPE (personal protective equipment) and work outside of an office environment.

Now, a dress code policy does not only stipulate what is or isn’t acceptable clothing, it may also include other factors around hygiene, grooming, and sometimes specifics such as piercings or tattoos. It would also be beneficial to include examples of what is considered inappropriate, a path to address violations to the policy, and clearly defined consequences for not following through.

In a multicultural and intersectional society, it is important to be mindful that not everyone has the same values, opinions, or cultural background as yourself. It is vital when developing your policy to avoid infringing on an individual’s human rights, segregating a protected class, or permitting harassment or discriminatory behaviours in the workplace. If your dress code policies, or any other company policies, cross over these lines, you risk potential legal ramifications for yourself or your company. Below are some examples of situations to be careful around:

Sex or Gender

Differences in dress codes for all genders are acceptable within reason, as it is common for each to have different dressing and grooming practices. However, it is illegal for a dress code to result in a situation that gives one gender advantage over another or infringes on someone’s freedom to dress in garments that are traditionally considered outside the parameters of their expressed gender.

If your dress code requires a lot of walking or heavy lifting, requiring some to wear dresses and high heels only would put them at a disadvantage against others who can wear jeans and flat shoes. If one gender is reprimanded for not following the dress code, the same rules apply to the other. Targeting one group over the other could result in claims of sexual harassment.


Based on some religions’ rules and customs, individuals are required to wear certain garments in public. It is legally acceptable to develop a dress code that prohibits wearing head coverings (hats or toques) in the workplace, however, if your policy does not allow individuals to wear religious head coverings, you will infringe upon religious freedoms.

Now, businesses are not legally bound to allow any type of clothing to be worn just because it’s part of an employee’s religion. If there is a legitimate business reason for prohibiting such garments to be worn, then it is possible to avoid a claim of discrimination. The most common example of this would be if the garments pose a health and safety hazard, such as in positions where PPE (personal protective equipment) is required to be worn at all times.

National Origin

Someone could possibly claim national origin discrimination if your dress code policy prohibits wearing clothing associated with a foreign culture but the same rule does not apply to the domestic culture. An example could be prohibiting clothing with foreign flags being worn at work but allowing the domestic flag. This could trigger a discrimination claim against you or your business based on national origin.

When developing your policy, leave room to allow everyone the opportunity to wear garments that they are comfortable in, just as long as their selected choice follows the business’s dress code guidelines. Being a fair and respectful employer means you have the responsibility to make reasonable accommodations in your dress code for protected groups. Legally, it is in your best interest to review any requests for dress code exemptions.

What to Include in Your Dress Code Policy?

When putting your policy together, it is important to consider how you would like your business’s image to be portrayed. Once this is done, it is up to you to determine how detailed you want to make your policy. Be sure to use a positive and respectful tone when drafting your document and provide clear explanations for why you have selected a specific dress code.

Some common elements you may want to include are:

  • A brief introduction which outlines company expectations on how employees should present themselves at work and why this is important to the business
  • Who the policy applies to, this way employees cannot regard themselves as exempt
  • General guidelines, providing employees with the rules around what is and is not considered appropriate clothing and other aspects such as hygiene, grooming, tattoos, jewelry, etc.
  • Accommodations, explain what the exemptions to the policy are
  • Disciplinary Actions, explain what happens when someone violates the dress code policy

Once you have put careful consideration into developing your dress code policy and are ready to roll it out, it would be beneficial to explain it to your employees. When your employees understand the motivation and reasoning behind the policy, they are likely to be more supportive and understanding of the rules and regulations. It is also wise to stress that employees can request exemptions based on their protected class.

However, you decide to roll out your policy (email or townhall), it is important to make it clear that you are willing to consider accommodations upon request, unless those accommodations compromise a dangerous work environment. Now that you understand the most common types of dress codes you can implement, what to keep an eye out for, and what can be included in your dress code policy, feel free to download our Dress Code Policy Template for use within your business.

Please stay tuned from parts 2 through 5 of this series when we discuss the different common dress codes in business today. In part 2, we will discuss Business Formal attire.

Download the Implementing a Dress Code: Part 1 – Reference & Policy Template (zip).

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Visit our Resource Library for all available downloads.

If you require assistance with any of the guides, forms or templates, please contact a BIG representative.

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