This article was updated on September 27, 2018.

In some professions, a company dress code is a health and safety necessity. Firefighters, for example, must don protective gear, and medical staffers need to be properly equipped when interacting with patients. Other times, uniforms are required so the public can quickly recognize an employee, as is the case with police officers or flight attendants. In many client-facing businesses, proper dress codes and appropriate attire are required to maintain a specific business image or demonstrate professionalism. For the vast majority of small businesses, however, dress codes are a large gray area.

A Salary.com survey found that not all organizations have company dress codes in place. Only 57 percent of respondents stated that their employer has a company dress code. Small firms are less likely to have a formal dress code in place and may allow employees to operate in a more casual or creative environment.

Creating a Good Impression

A company dress code can help promote a good impression of your organization among employees, customers and business partners. More than half of respondents in the Salary.com survey (56 percent) admit that they make assumptions based on how people are dressed. But, more than half say that a dress code is either a very or moderately important factor when it comes to accepting a job offer — with millennials likely to find company dress codes too strict. A good rule is to look at what your competitors are doing in this area.

When establishing a dress code, you should consider what is appropriate for your business. For example, you might want to dissuade employees from wearing overly casual or revealing clothing. You might discourage excessive facial hair, jewelry, piercings, unnatural hair color or visible tattoos — or encourage them, depending on your industry and brand. The requirements should be spelled out in the employee handbook that is distributed to all employees and communicated to employees on their first day of work. It's often a good idea to offer suggestions of what types of clothing might be considered inappropriate for your workplace, for example, short shorts, halter tops, flip flops or tank tops.

Don't Offend or Discriminate

It is important to ensure that your policy is not discriminatory. Federal, state and local anti-discrimination laws may require employers to accommodate an employee's sincerely held religious belief; the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission offers guidance on properly adhering to these regulations. This means an employer may be required to make exceptions to its dress code or grooming policy to permit employees to observe religious practices. Ensure that your policy makes clear that employees with sincerely held religious beliefs may request accommodations.

Do not create separate dress codes depending on gender, and never discriminate against any protected classes. You may want to consult legal counsel in the initial review of the company dress code. You should be sure your policy includes a statement explaining your willingness to provide accommodations and avenues for employees to request an accommodation.

Keep It Reasonable

If an employee has violated the company dress code, the best first course of action to take is to talk to the person individually so that you can explain your point of view. Rarely should disciplinary action be taken, except in the case of repeated or excessive violations. Instead, depending on the violation, you may decide to send employees home to change or simply ensure that they know that their clothing violates the policy.

Some employees will resent overly restrictive dress codes, especially where they seem more formal than necessary. Strive to explain the reasons why the policies are in place, which will make employees feel more comfortable and more likely to comply.

Tags: People Management and Growth Company Policy Discrimination Research & Insights Articles