Miss Mannerly answers all of your summer dress code questions

Afraid that your dress code will cause your employees to up and quit? Gentle Reader, you've come to the right place.

Dear Miss Mannerly:

I am an HR Manager for a major metropolitan employer. Now that it is June, some of our employees are coming to work in t-shirts and shorts, or very skimpy sundresses. We want to issue a dress code, and hope to have it rolled out by July 15. Meanwhile, how should we deal with our employees who are dressing inappropriately now?  Better Late Than Never

Dear Better Late Than Never: Oh, dear. Miss Mannerly is afraid that July 15 is too late to be issuing a summer dress code. A dress code is correctly issued in December or January, when everyone is bundled up in sweaters and coats and boots, and preoccupied with the holidays. In the winter, no one will feel singled out by your dress code, and they’ll have some time to acclimate themselves to the rules before they actually need to follow them. So please wait until this winter to publish your new dress code. (If you’re must get it done earlier, Miss Mannerly will allow you to publish it in October as long as you aren’t in the South, where October is still sundress-and-sandals weather.) Then you can properly remind employees about your dress code next spring and start enforcing it next summer.

Miss Mannerly says: No new dress codes in the summer, and no white shoes after Labor Day.

As far as the summer of 2018 is concerned, Miss Manners will give you a dispensation to counsel employees if their dress is creating a safety issue, risks alienating your clients or customers, or is indecent. Things will be better next year, she promises.

Dear Miss Mannerly:

I am a male HR manager for an employer in a small town. We have one female employee who is pretty “well endowed,” and during the summer she wears tank tops to work that show a full inch of cleavage. I honestly don’t think she realizes how much she is revealing. She and I have known each other for a long time, and we have a very good relationship. I feel that someone needs to talk with her about the way she dresses, but despite our good relationship I’m uncomfortable doing it because I’m afraid she will be embarrassed (since I’m a guy) or may even think I’m sexually harassing her. I have a female HR coordinator who is willing to talk with her, but the coordinator is kind of a “bull in a china shop” -- not very tactful. Which of us do you think should talk to this employee? Paralyzed by #MeToo 

Dear Paralyzed: Although your concerns are well-founded, Miss Mannerly would prefer that you be the one to talk with your employee. You already have a good relationship with her and apparently have some -- manners. Miss Mannerly suspects that your employee will take the “counseling” better from you than she might from your less diplomatic coordinator. Another option would be to ask a female who isn’t in HR to have the talk with her. Does she have a female supervisor or manager who can discuss this in a gentle way? If yes, that may be the way to go. If not, you are Miss Mannerly's choice. 

Dear Miss Mannerly:

I am a line supervisor at a manufacturing plant. One of my machine operators has a pair of earrings that he wears from Memorial Day to Labor Day, with very few exceptions. They are giant, dangly wooden scrolls. (I am not kidding!) The earrings reach the top of his shoulders. We have a strict safety rule that employees cannot wear jewelry while operating machinery. My employee is well aware of this rule, which has been in our employee handbook since the 1950s. Every day during the summer when he comes to work, I have to tell him to take the earrings off before he can start work. He always complies, but I am fed up with having to talk to him about it. What can I do? It seems silly to send him home when it’s just a pair of earrings, and I need him on the job. Too Old for This Malarkey

The employee in question.

Dear Too Old: Safety violations are outside Miss Mannerly's realm, but if you will allow her to say so, it appears that the braids and beard on this gentleman could be a problem, as well. In any event, Miss Mannerly suggests that you warn him next time that you will be constrained to start progressive discipline if you have to mention the earrings again. The time after that, Miss Mannerly gives you permission to start progressive discipline. (But only after you get the approval of your HR Department.)

Dear Miss Mannerly:

I’m the Vice President of HR for a medium-sized U.S. company. During the summer, we have lots of dress code violations, and the offenders are always women. My CEO wants us to issue a new dress code for women (we’re planning to roll it out in January). I’m fine with a dress code, but I feel like we are asking for trouble if it is aimed exclusively at women. The CEO says there is no point in including rules for men because men never violate the code. We have both agreed to do whatever you say. Help! Terrified of a Lawsuit

So, she gets a write-up . . .
. . . and he doesn't?

Dear Terrified: Miss Mannerly understands the CEO's position, but you are correct – a dress code aimed exclusively at one gender presents difficulties for employee relations, assuming it is not against the law. (Miss Mannerly has been told that in New York City, it’s illegal to have gender-specific dress codes.) You can issue a gender-neutral dress code while including items that, as a practical matter, will pertain only to women. For example, in a very conservative environment, the code could say, “Business attire: Suit (black, navy, or charcoal gray) with matching jacket, and pants or skirt. Skirt length should be no longer than mid-calf and no shorter than knee-length. Button-down collar shirt with necktie, or blouse. Necklines should at or above the collarbone. Shoes should be closed-toed. Heels should not be more than 2 inches high. Jewelry should be limited to wrist watches, wedding/engagement rings, and earrings of no more than 1/2” below the ear lobe. Necklaces are acceptable but may not be more than 18 inches in circumference.” If the men are already dressing professionally, then Miss Mannerly gives them permission to simply ignore the new dress code. But the women will get clear guidelines without being made to feel singled out.

Dear Miss Mannerly:

Are you really Robin, and are all of these letters made up? Skeptical

Dear Skeptical: Miss Mannerly considers it a faux pas that you would ask this question. Why are you so skeptical? Why can’t you trust anybody?

Image Credits: From flickr, Creative Commons license. Gentleman kitty by Miss-Cynical; Labor Day by Mike Licht; dude (actually attending ComicCon 2009 in San Diego) with earrings, tats, and braids by Kevin Dooley; young woman in sundress by Javcon117*; guy who should be wearing a shirt by Tony Alter.


Robin Shea has 30 years' experience in employment litigation, including Title VII and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act (including the Amendments Act). 
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