If employees' summer attire begins to resemble a day at the
beach rather than a day at the office, it is likely time to remind
employees of your dress code policy. Having a clearly delineated
dress code policy in place and ensuring that your employees adhere
to it is important for several reasons. Not only do dress code
violations create a less-than-professional workplace environment,
but they also can compromise employees' health and
The primary dress code issues employers face in the summer months concern overly casual and revealing clothing such as flip-flops, shorts and tank tops. Aside from the fact that this revealing clothing leaves uncovered tattoos or body piercings that remain covered during winter months (often viewed by others as unprofessional and inappropriate for a place of work), it also creates safety hazards. Open-toed shoes increase the likelihood that employees may slip or fall. And improper attire, such as tank tops or shorts, can create dangerous working conditions for employees who work in a manufacturing setting.
Having reasonable attire and appearance guidelines in place is also essential to avoid the appearance of workplace discrimination. In drafting such guidelines, however, employers should be sensitive to potential discrimination claims that might arise once the policy is put into place. For instance, women have successfully challenged policies that require them to wear uniforms while men are allowed to wear "professional dress." Another potentially problematic policy is one that prohibits women from wearing pants but allows men to do so. Policies prohibiting particular hairstyles and those requiring men to be clean-shaven have been challenged as well. Employers also need to remember to accommodate employees' religious attire and appearance. For example, a policy prohibiting head coverings could be discriminatory if it does not allow for religious exceptions. Though employers typically must accommodate the dress code policy exception requests discussed above, if the employer can show the exception would create an undue hardship, it likely does not have to accommodate the request. Employers also must be careful not to retaliate against employees who request accommodations or who complain that the dress code infringes on their civil rights.
To ensure your company's dress code is followed by employees and properly enforced by managers and supervisors, it is vital that the policy be memorialized in writing and circulated companywide. If this crucial step is not taken, not only may employees have a less than clear understanding of the rules they are expected to follow, but managers and supervisors could be forced to make subjective judgment calls that could result in employees claiming they have been subject to discriminatory treatment.
Get to Know Our New Partner Michael P. Mullins
Did you always know you wanted to be a lawyer?
No. Immediately after college, I volunteered to teach inner-city
seventh and eighth graders in Chicago. I started a chess program in
the school that received national attention, most notably on CNN.
The program also caught the attention of Michelle Obama, who at the
time was the executive director of Public Allies Chicago, a
not-for-profit that identifies and nurtures community leaders
between the ages of 18 and 30.
Public Allies honored me with a Tomorrow's Leader Today award, and at the awards reception, I met Mrs. Obama. We stayed in touch after the reception, and I eventually took a position with Public Allies, where Barack Obama was a frequent speaker in the leadership training program. It was a great experience working with and becoming friendly with the Obamas, and it's thrilling to see what they have gone on to accomplish.
So what led to your decision to become a lawyer?
At Public Allies I worked closely with its board of directors, which was populated with attorneys from major law firms. I came to appreciate their rigorous analysis and problem-solving skills, and I decided to enroll in law school to get that training. After law school, I practiced in Chicago for a number of years but moved back to the Boston area nearly a decade ago because my wife and I decided we wanted to raise our children here.
Why did you choose to join Day Pitney?
I was attracted to the firm because of the established quality of its work and its recognized brand in the reinsurance and insurance coverage world. Since coming on board, I have witnessed firsthand the depth of the firm's practice, the skill of its attorneys and the overall collegiality that permeates not only the Boston office but also the firm in general.
How do you spend your time when you're not in the office?
My wife and I spend as much quality time as we can with our children, who are still young enough to want mom and dad around. During the summer there is a seemingly endless string of concerts, games, tournaments and other outings to attend. We live on the South Shore, which has a wide variety of beaches, parks and forests to explore, so that keeps us pretty busy.
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