From the golden arches positioned on the left-hand side of the chest to the green t-shirts at Subway, Australia’s most common workplace dress code is the uniform. And while this isn’t completely surprising given that our biggest employers are industries where they are commonly worn, we aren’t as formal as we once were in our workplaces.

Our working lives have undergone significant change over the past two years, and a by-product of this has been a shift in acceptable workplace attire and dress codes. With businesses now embracing the benefits of remote or hybrid working arrangements resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, employees have become accustomed to dressing for comfort, bringing casualwear into the acceptable realm of workwear.

In this article, we dive into acceptable workplace attire, why businesses should establish a dress code, and share tips on how to address instances of inappropriate clothing.

Setting clear expectations

Dress codes appear in many parts of our lives from workplaces to weekend events. Some are just understood, and others are expected of us. In certain industries, there can be strict safety requirements that make certain items like hard hats, closed-in shoes, or hi-vis clothing mandatory for employees to complete their jobs. However rules relating to dress code have naturally become more relaxed since many employees are now opting for hybrid working arrangements which has meant that when employees do attend the physical workplace, there is a sense of confusion about what’s considered acceptable and unacceptable.

Traditional workplace structures have undergone an extensive remodel as a result of the effects of the pandemic, including the ability for many employees to work from home (this was considered taboo prior to the COVID-19 lockdowns). And the same goes for expected workplace attire. Employees now expect to attend the workplace in more comfortable attire as opposed to traditional ‘formal business wear’. It follows that in keeping with changes to workplace cultures, employers should consider their expectations on workplace attire. It is now common for employers to allow a ‘smart-casual’ dress code and only enforce ‘formal business attire’ when required, such as client meetings. Of course, different companies will naturally have different dress code expectations depending on the nature of their business. Whatever a business decides upon, employers must ensure that they implement a dress code policy which:

  • Is clear and unambiguous;
  • Gives guidelines and specific examples of what’s acceptable and what’s not;
  • Communicates expectations effectively; and
  • Is a solid point of reference for employees.

How to address inappropriate clothing

From offensive items to unsafe footwear, employees can push the envelope on what’s considered appropriate clothing but it’s up to employers to ensure that staff are adhering to the dress code. For example, if your workplace dress code is smart casual, but a staff member has arrived at. work wearing shorts, a singlet top, and thongs, what should you do? Here are some ways you can manage this:

  • Private and confidential: arrange for a closed-door discussion to address the situation. As an HR manager or business owner, you should never call out an employee in public as doing this can potentially lead to a bullying or harassment claim. If you have any concerns about dealing with this issue, it’s always best to ask for help from your company’s HR manager or an outsourced HR service like our sister company, HR Assured.
  • Discuss the facts only: approach the situation with tact and sensitivity, provide legitimate reasons for why the employee’s chosen outfit is inappropriate and how it violates the company’s policy, and allow an opportunity for careful and considered conversation.
  • Revisit and review your dress code: take the time to show and review examples of what’s considered acceptable and reiterate this further by providing the employee with a copy of the workplace dress code policy. Ensure that the employee understands this and recommend that in the future they err on the side of caution when making work-related clothing decisions.
  • Repeat offender: If you find yourself in a situation where an employee, despite multiple warnings, continually infringes on the business’s dress code, discussing the matter with your HR manager will help you weigh your options and take the appropriate next steps. This is also where enableHR can help – our software allows you to keep a record of every interaction between your business and your people.

How we dress is an extension of ourselves, and with many different personalities co-existing in a workplace, it’s natural that we all dress ourselves to express that. However, how employees dress is also a reflection of the workplace culture of your business so it should at all times remain respectful and professional.

How enableHR can help?

We believe HR should be simple. Simple enough for you to run your business confidently. Inside enableHR is everything you need to manage the entire employee lifecycle, from recruitment and onboarding to managing your people and termination. If you’d like to see enableHR in action, contact us to learn more about how we can help your business.