How to Tell an Employee Their Clothes Are Inappropriate

The clothes people wear in the workplace can sometimes be a real problem. They can give a very negative image of the person wearing them, and sometimes of the employer. Dealing with this problem and establishing dress standards requires both tact and clarity.

Dress codes basics

Most employers issue guidelines on dress standards as a One Size Fits All approach to a general standard.

The usual dress code is clean, basic office attire, clean shoes, etc. Neat casual dress may or may not be acceptable, depending on the employer. Uniforms are expected to be clean and well maintained. The employer also reserves the right to decide what form of clothing is inappropriate.

This approach works about 90% of the time. The problem is that these guidelines are also likely to be misinterpreted, or overloaded with specifications. Women's clothing, in particular, seems to be heavily targeted with descriptions of what's appropriate and what isn't.

Management must spell out the requirements. This is best done both through guidelines and directly speaking to staff, establishing one set of rules which is clearly understood.

Dealing with dress problems

There's usually one or two people in the workplace whose dress standard and/or dress sense is borderline. The "office slob" is the usual offender, although some new staff may make honest mistakes. While the younger staff may be forgiven easily enough, the office slob really gets on people's nerves. Their standard of dress may be actually offensive to some other staff, and damage staff morale. The presence of an ongoing dress code problem also does nothing for management's credibility.

Talking to staff

If you're the supervisor or manager, your first priority is to get any offenders to lift their game, ASAP. You will need to address the staff members privately, and explain the situation.

Important: Bear in mind that staff members are entitled to respond and give reasons for their appearance. It will also clarify their problems.

This is the formal approach:

  1. Explain the situation, and the requirement for compliance with the dress code.
  2. Ask if the staff member has any difficulty with compliance.
  3. If not, ask them to acquire proper attire immediately.
  4. If there is a problem, ask what's needed for them to obtain correct attire, see if you can assist, or allow time for this to happen.
  5. Inform the employee that you will expect them to attend work properly attired in future, in accordance with circumstances referred to in your discussion.
  6. If appropriate, inform the employee that they're being given a direct instruction, and repeat offenses will not be tolerated.

Discipline and other issues

The reason for Point 6 is that it's necessary to enforce standards, as well as set them. The most common problem with the repeat offenders against dress codes, particularly the office slob variety, is that they are often habitually slovenly. They may well have been dressing like that for years, usually as a result of apathetic or ineffective management.

For managers, the bottom line is that they represent a low standard of public image to the public and to other workers. It's not unreasonable to ask staff to wear ordinary business clothes like the rest of the human race.