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Dress codes aren’t uncommon. They’re one of the easiest ways for an employer to create a distinct and professional image among the staff. But what’s considered appropriate work attire by one employer isn’t always the same for another, and you may run into a disagreement with your boss on what you’re wearing. Employers generally want staff to conduct themselves in a professional manner, and this often encompasses how you dress.
If the company has a uniform, your boss has every right to insist you wear specific clothes -- no matter how ugly they may be. And the term “uniform” is often a broad one. It entails any article of clothing that identifies the employee as working for the employer. For example, an employer may request all employees wear a blue shirt with tan pants. Your choice of clothing must fall within these parameters to be considered acceptable. Employers may also require you to wear historical, ethnic or formal attire if it’s part of the dress code, as would be the case in a Mexican or German restaurant.
As luck would have it, you’re not usually responsible for the cost of a uniform. An employer will either provide you with a uniform or an “allowance” to cover the cost of that uniform. Federal employees, for example, are provided an allowance not to exceed $800 a year when required to wear a uniform, reports the Office of Personnel Management. They may also be furnished a uniform at a cost not to exceed $800 a year. A mandated color combination -- as you might see in a retail store -- is a different story. The employer doesn’t need to cover the cost of white, tan or blue shirts and tan, blue, black or gray bottoms, unless the article of clothing has the company logo on it, then it’s the employer’s responsibility. The employer must provide all other colors to you, or reimburse you for the expense. If the employer requires more than one “outfit,” the employer incurs the expense of each additional one beyond the first.
Companies without uniforms generally have a dress code instead. Even companies that have adopted a business casual dress will have at least some policy that defines what’s considered appropriate. In this situation, your boss is more apt to insist that you not wear specific clothing -- “not” being the operative word. Clothing that reveals too much cleavage, for example, is often frowned upon. The same can be said for clothing that exposes your shoulders, stomach or back -- not to mention your underwear. Sandals, flip-fops and open-toed shoes may also be a no-no. Most of the time, a little common sense keeps you from breaking a dress code policy.
The only time an employer can’t insist you wear specific clothing is when it goes against your religious beliefs. According to the Anti-Defamation League, “employers must attempt to accommodate employees who, for religious reasons, must maintain a particular physical appearance or manner of dress in keeping with the tenets of their religion.” If you must wear certain religious apparel, your employer must make reasonable accommodations. For example, forbidding a Muslim woman from wearing a hijab at work is often unlawful.
Based in Minneapolis, Minn., Dana Severson has been writing marketing materials for small-to-mid-sized businesses since 2005. Prior to this, Severson worked as a manager of business development for a marketing company, developing targeted marketing campaigns for Big G, Betty Crocker and Pillsbury, among others.