Dress Code and Related Employee Appearance Issues

June/July 2014, Vol 2, No 3 - Inside Business
Robert D. Orzechowski, MBA, SPHR

One of the challenges for human resources is how best to align policies regarding appearance, grooming, and hygiene with business necessity, safety, legal compliance, and reasonable accommodation. This includes retail pharmacies as well as retail headquarters operations. The following are substantive aspects of dress and appearance policies that should be considered when employers communicate their expectations to employees.

Policies should be clearly written, and each policy should include a purpose, summary, and scope (eg, who is covered by it, specific departments, and eligibility), as well as relevant definitions and the actual policy narrative. This last part should include the basic course of action or general approach designed to achieve the results desired. Finally, these policies should direct employees to seek management’s guidance or approval if the appropriateness of any specific course of action or employee decision may be in question. In many cases, if a compromise cannot be easily agreed upon, management should reserve the right to send an employee home to correct a policy violation before returning to work.

Policies covering these issues are generally accepted as the province of the employer, such as chain headquarters or independent pharmacy owners, who develop the policies in compliance with state and federal regulations. Exceptions may exist within public sector entities or when employees are covered by a collective bargaining agreement.

Business necessity should be the driving force when developing policies on dress code guidelines, to maintain a professional appearance for patients who consult with pharmacists for example, and behind the counter, for the safety of the employees. This standard can range from safety (no open-toed shoes) to comfort (shorts for delivery personnel in hot weather) and company branding (ie, uniforms or formal business attire and a clean, professional image).

Dress codes may also be set to help patients easily identify pharmacists, physician assistants, and/or nurse practitioners from other employees. For example, retail pharmacists and pharmacy managers may wear a white jacket or lab coat, while pharmacy technicians and clerks may wear a burgundy or light blue jacket. This distinction can help patients better identify pharmacists behind the counter, or healthcare providers in the retail clinic.

Other settings, such as retail chain headquarters, may not require a uniform and have more flexible dress code, such as dressing for the day ahead,1 which is based on your schedule for the next day, from business attire such as a suit or a dress, or dressy jeans and a blazer on more casual days. Dress code policies reinforce company culture and values, and each job description should include clear and valid requirements for a particular dress and grooming standard.

Closely related issues include responding to employee requests for accommodation for health or religious reasons, or for reasons related to other factors that place the employee in a protected class. One large supermarket pharmacy chain has their grooming and dress code guidelines readily available online.2 Standards provided may include headwear, jewelry, hair placement or length, and allergic reactions to certain materials.

Policies must also strive for fair treatment of all races, both sexes, and any employee in a protected class; policies cannot be unnecessarily burdensome for one sex or group. A more contemporary dimension includes the topics of sexual orientation and transgender employees. As with any accommodation, employers should make good faith efforts to identify and implement them. The exception, of course, is if the accommodation creates an undue hardship for the employer.

Personal grooming and hygiene are topics usually addressed in related policies. Topics should include standards of cleanliness, naturally occurring hair colors, hair length, absence of unpleasant body odor, use (or prohibition) of personal fragrances and other grooming products, visible body piercings, and body art. Human resources, as well as managers, such as pharmacy managers, must have the communication skills necessary to address real or potential violations with employees in a professional manner.

Many of today’s workforces are widely diverse, and companies may want to reexamine their appearance and grooming policies to accommodate this diversity. Employers should strive for a culture of respect, open communication, fair and reasonable treatment, and a genuine concern for employee safety and productivity. This is simply good business and sound management. Finally, all human resource policies should receive legal review on a regular basis.

1. Target headquarters team members dress for their day. Target. https://corporate.target.com/discover/article/headquarters-Target-team-members-dress-for-their-d. Accessed July 7, 2014.
2. Dress code and uniform policies. Safeway Inc. www.safewayemployeestore.com/dress_code.aspx. Accessed July 6, 2014.

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