Common challenges

A Stitch in Time: Keeping Dress Codes Current and Compliant

March 29, 2018

If you’ve ever seen Project Runway, the fashion design reality show, then you’re likely familiar with judge Tim Gunn’s favourite clothing advice: “Make it work.” As an employer or manager, you probably spend more time asking employees to “Make it work-appropriate” instead. While workplaces have become increasingly casual regarding dress codes, the informality has actually increased confusion about what counts as work-appropriate clothing. Now more than ever, employees are asking themselves, “What can I wear?”

Like a well-worn pair of jeans, your organization’s dress code policy may need an update. Recent legislative changes mean the time is right to reconsider whether your policy is both realistic in terms of today’s standards, as well as legislatively compliant. For example, Ontario recently banned employers from mandating high heels, except when health and safety risks require an elevated heel. Likewise, the addition of “gender identity” and “gender expression” to the list of prohibited grounds of discrimination in both federal and provincial human rights legislation means that employers must be cautious when implementing gender-specific dress codes.

While a dress code may not seem like a top priority, our clothing and grooming choices communicate a great deal of information to fellow employees, management, and clients. In the workplace, our clothes can indicate a certain level of professionalism. Yet, by implementing an inappropriate dress code, employers may risk turning off potential talent, particularly if the dress code is culturally insensitive, or overly strict about, for example, tattoos and piercings. By finding the right fit with your industry’s professional standards while allowing for some breathing room for employee preferences, you can help ensure your dress code is both current and legislatively compliant.

Setting a dress code for your whole organization may seem daunting, but the policy is just the beginning. How will you implement the dress code fairly, and handle those awkward conversations regarding inappropriate clothing?

Download our FREE Dress Code Guide to help you discover the action points and resources that can help you design a dress code that is both current and compliant.

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OHRC: Sexualized and gender-specific dress codes

CFIB; What not to wear: Avoiding dress code discrimination

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