Is it just me, or has JLo and Shakira's halftime performance at the Super Bowl received more attention than the game itself? As with so many other issues these days, we are a country divided. Some believe the performance was magnificent and empowering, while others have derided the halftime show as a burlesque sequel to JLo's stripper role in the movie Hustlers. Whether you watched the performance with delight, outrage, or a general sense of shock and awe, I'm sure we can all agree that the dress code for the evening certainly aroused attention and left a lasting impression.

Alas, as someone about to turn 50 who does not age in reverse (and sometimes requires multiple tries just to get off a sofa), I will not be found shaking my sequins and tassels on stage in a largely see-through unitard anytime soon, and I'm OK with that. What I can do, however, is take this opportunity to provide some dress code tips for HR professionals who may have struggled with disagreements over appropriate workplace attire.

Tip #1 Tailor Your Dress Code to the Needs of Your Business and Communicate the Policy to Employees

The days of three-piece suits and calf-length dresses worn with suntan pantyhose have gone the way of eight-track tapes and pet rocks. Dressing up for work is no longer en vogue. According to research from staffing firm OfficeTeam, 50% of senior managers interviewed said employees are wearing less formal clothing than they did 5 years ago. Likewise, 31% of office workers prefer a business-casual dress code, while 27% prefer a casual dress code or no dress code at all.

Even though workplaces are becoming more casual over time, most businesses still impose limits on what passes as acceptable attire. When asked about the most common dress code violations they see at work, senior managers participating in the OfficeTeam survey reported that employees wearing overly casual clothing was the most common offense (47%), followed by employees flashing too much skin (32%). In order to strike a balance between the wishes of employers and employees, businesses should tailor their dress codes to the needs of their particular industry and workplace setting.

Like clothes themselves, dress codes are not one size fits all. Employees working in a remote satellite office who do not interact with the public should not have the same stringent dress code as employees greeting customers in a bank, for example. Instead, employers should strive to adopt a dress code that is fair and reasonable and clearly communicate the dress code to everyone, addressing violations as necessary.

Tip #2 Enforce Your Dress Code Consistently and Fairly Without Regard to Employees' Race or National Origin

For its part, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) does not have too much to say about employee dress codes, as long as they do not run afoul of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Generally, employers enjoy wide latitude to adopt dress code policies and practices for their workplaces. Keep in mind, however, that it is illegal for employers to enforce a dress code that treats some employees less favorably because of their race or national origin (such as dress codes prohibiting African or East Indian attire while permitting similar casual attire to be worn by other employees).

Tip #3 Consider Employees' Requests for Religious Accommodations

Another area of litigation often seen on the topic of dress codes involves employers' failure to accommodate employees' requests to wear religious attire. According to the EEOC, to comply with Title VII, an employer's dress code policy must take into consideration religious accommodations requested by an employee (such as requests by Muslim employees to wear a hijab headscarf). Unless the request would cause an undue hardship on the business's operations, an employee's request to wear religious attire should be granted.

I hope these tips will help you administer your business's dress code in a fair, consistent, and legal manner. Like JLo's love, my advice on this issue don't cost a thing.


The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.