Company Dress Codes – How Far Can You Go?

We have all worked in establishments that required some type of dress code. A dress code is obvious anytime you go to a chain fast food restaurant and look at the employees in their matching polos and khakis.  But how far can employers go in their dress code requirements?

Let’s start out at the most basic level of responsibility, a requirement that is called the General Duty Clause. An employer has the responsibility to provide a safe working environment and that requirement eclipses nearly everything else. For example, when working around industrial machines an employer may restrict loose clothing or requiring that long hair to be tucked in beneath the collar.  Food service in another industry that will have its own set of cleanliness dress code rules.

picto_dresscodeBeyond the general duty clause the employer still has quite a bit of latitude. If your business is serving the public you may want to provide an image as part of the customer experience. Your focus should be specific to the needs of your establishment. Each business is unique!


Employers can require no visible body piercings beyond earrings and can require that offensive tattoos be covered. The question that often comes next, is what is considered offensive? We all know that a swastika fits in that category, but where do you go from there? Employers can come up with general guidelines but often questions arise of even the most carefully crafted policies so employers may want to institute an outright ban.



With any of the dress code categories, you can set different rules for men and women. However, your overall rules should not place excessive burden to one gender over the other. You can get into uncomfortable (and fortunately, pretty rare) situations with men who have unruly chest hair or women whose facial hair needs to be addressed. If these issues come up, address them individually and get best practice advice from Cardinal.



Fragrances and body odors can be regulated as well. With fragrances you can institute a blanket ban on chemical-type smells (i.e. perfumes and scented lotions), especially if there are co-workers that have sensitivities. We all hope that employers can simply ask employees to come to work clean and professionally presentable. Unfortunately not everyone practices the same levels of cleanliness. Like with the aforementioned hair/body hair section, employers need to address these issues individually and get assistance from Cardinal. Remember there are situations where a medical condition or medications may cause unpleasant body odor.



Whether your work image is looking sexy, or keeping it covered and conservative, both “looks” may be allowed by employers. But keep in mind, requiring revealing or sexually-explicit uniforms where no legitimate business purpose exists may constitute sexual harassment. There are exceptions and it is best to get legal guidance if you are pushing these boundaries.

Although requiring an employee to purchase a uniform or buy clothes to comply with a specific company dress code does not need to be expensive. Employers must be aware that requiring an employee to purchase clothing to comply with a uniform policy may result in the employee earning less than minimum wage.  Be sure not to run afoul of minimum wage laws!


There are many pitfalls that employers need to be aware of when it comes to implementing a company dress code. Cardinal can help you!  Remember the more rules you make, the more your pool of available applicants may dwindle. Is your dress code going to be so restrictive that you cannot find good help?

After all these rules we say that yes employers can make, be aware of religious or ethnic accommodation. A dress code may need to be modified if it conflicts with religious practices which may include piercings, facial hair, and more. And remember, that a certain type of “dress” or hairstyle may be an integral part of an employee’s race, ethnicity or heritage. If you have questions about any of these pitfalls please contact Cardinal for assistance.