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Personal appearance can be a touchy subject
  • Employers should always approach employees with sensitivity and respect.
  • A recent change in appearance might be a sign of depression, and an employer should use discretion.
  • Employers may be lenient on dress code to allow for religious expression.

If employees display a disheveled and untidy appearance, address it in private as a performance issue and reiterate the company’s expectations of professional attire. However, keep in mind that if this is a recent change, they could be suffering from depression or other problems. Without getting too personal or asking for details, simply state that the change has been noticed, and that if there is anything going on in their personal life that is causing stress, they might want to consider using the Employee Assistance Program (if available) or seek counseling. Ensure them that the company is supportive, but must still insist upon professional appearance at work.

Individuals may take criticism personally. Employers have the right to correct employees, and correcting them promptly will help avoid problems in the future and set the right example for other employees. But employers should be sensitive to avoid hurting employees’ feelings and making them feel uncomfortable. For any potentially embarrassing topic, especially one that might result in discipline, it’s a good idea to correct employees in private and reinforce that the company has no desire to embarrass them, but needs them to remedy the situation.

An exception might be if there’s a concern that correcting an employee’s attire could be construed as sexual harassment. While it’s rare that asking an employee to observe the dress code would result in a bona fide harassment claim, take extra time to consider how to approach the situation, and consider having another individual in the room. For example, if a male supervisor must address complaints about a female employee’s low-cut blouse, it may be a good idea to request the help of a female manager or HR representative.

There are times when an employer may not want to follow the dress code to the letter. For example, employers may be required to make exceptions as a religious accommodation. Religious expressions that may need to be accommodated might include, but are not limited to, beards, tattoos, or head scarves.

Most employees who aren’t following the dress code won’t put up a fight or feel as though they’re being harassed when questioned about their attire. When possible, reference the company policy when correcting employees. If the particular issue doesn’t appear in the dress code, try to explain why the issue is problematic in the workplace and that the dress code isn’t meant to be all-encompassing. Most employees will agree to remedy the situation without much of a fuss.