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Can I give feedback on a candidate’s or employee’s clothing?

Last Updated on November 17, 2022 / Communications

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HR Question:

We’re trying to decide how to approach appearance and dress in the workplace. Can employers provide feedback on a candidate’s or employee’s clothing?

HR Answer:

You should approach giving feedback on a candidate’s or employee’s clothing differently. If an employee’s clothing does not conform to your personal appearance rules or dress code policy, you can certainly let the employee know, ask them to change, and discipline them for violating the policy.

Regarding job applicants, we would not recommend you comment on their clothing during the interview process. That said, if the job will entail wearing special or expensive attire, such as a tailored suit every day, we do recommend communicating that expectation in the job posting and during the interview. Informing a new hire that they’ll have to drop hundreds or thousands of dollars on a new wardrobe after they’ve started would not go over well. The same goes for tattoos and piercings—applicants should understand your expectations ahead of time.

Implement a Dress Code Policy

If you don’t yet have a personal appearance or dress code policy, we recommend creating one. It should reflect your work environment and focus on a few points including:

  1. Employee safety. Hazards in the workplace may necessitate that your employees wear personal protective equipment or specific attire (e.g., steel-toed shoes) or avoid other attire (e.g., sandals, dangling jewelry) that could pose a hazard around machinery.
  2. Ensure you’re not creating a policy that is discriminatory. In some cases, a policy may seem neutral or reasonable, when in reality, it negatively affects a certain group of people. For example, requiring that women wear makeup, that men are clean-shaven, or that hair not be frizzy might sound like reasonable standards for “professionalism,” but are all rife with discrimination. You’ll want to make sure that any policy you write doesn’t burden a particular gender, race, religion, or other protected class. You can learn more about protected classes on the platform.
  3. Consider your company culture. Is your culture formal or casual? As the world moves to more casual wear, many employers are shifting in the same way, trusting their employees to know how to “dress for their day.” On the other hand, the more formal your work environment, the more specific your dress code may need to be (in particular, if there are things you never want to see in the workplace, call them out). Either way, help your staff understand how formal or casual they should be dressed when they report for work, and don’t assume that they know what you mean by “business casual.”

Whatever your policy, remember that you’ll have to enforce it consistently and address any violations.

Special thanks to the HR Support Center for providing this edition of our HR Question of the Week!

It’s important to be clear when communicating your expectations of employees. That may sound obvious, and yet, some employers assume that employees know what they are expected to do. Strategic HR can help you to develop policies and create or update your employee handbook to ensure that you clearly define expected employee behavior and remain compliant at the same time. Visit our HR Communications page to learn more.

This article does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice. Information and content presented herein is for general informational purposes only and readers are strongly encouraged to contact their attorney to obtain advice with respect to any legal matter. Only your individual attorney can provide assurances that the information contained herein is applicable or appropriate to your particular situation or legal jurisdiction.