Should Policing the Company Dress Code Be HR’s Job?

Posted January 28, 2011 by

Having my mother as a constant example, I never had to wonder about what I should or shouldn’t wear to an office job. Some people aren’t that fortunate and they need some guidance. In her article, A Word From the Fashion Police, Brooke Howell feels human resources (HR) should pull violating employees aside and have those tough conversations about wardrobe. As I recently discovered, there are some who would disagree with her.
“My first point is very few companies have published dress codes,” said project management professional, David M. Jost in response to a recent query. “Now with anything – HR should be the auditor of the process – but they should not be the enforcer.”
Bonnie Coffey of Bonnie Coffey & Associates, LLC, is on the same page with Jost. “I think it’s up to the Human Resources professionals and the company to establish acceptable/appropriate wardrobe choices for a company,” she said. It’s up to individual managers to apply those standards/codes of conduct/corporate guidelines.
“It’s important to appear professional (and you can do that without looking like your grandmother!) – anything less not only doesn’t support a company in their goals, but can, in some cases, be distracting to other workers.”

“Our dress policy, as with all our company policies are enforced by the direct supervisors,” said Samantha Kolbe, human resources director for AnalySYS Enterprises, Inc., adding her name to the list people who disagree with Howell. “We give our supervisors autonomy over their departments, which includes hiring, discipline, and termination as well as rewards and incentives.”
“When it comes to dress code the department manager really is the one to
enforce whether or not an employee is dressed appropriately,” concurs organizational development consultant, April Callis. “Of course managers hate to do this, so usually try to push back on HR.”
Executive coach, David Couper also believes that it’s up to HR to set the dress code, but individual managers or supervisors should be responsible for enforcing it. Couper also stressed that the dress code should be enforced across-the-board otherwise, “morale and motivation suffers.” The only time HR should step in is when “managers are not enforcing the dress code. [It is] then that HR should police it or decide that the policy is not working and change it.”
“There shouldn’t be any mystery about what is and what is not right to wear in a particular office. People who are not given the information cannot be expected to make the choice for themselves and then [be called on it when they] completely cross the line in terms of what the company deems acceptable,” said Tessa Hood, managing director for Changing Gear Limited. “It is their immediate bosses who see them on a daily basis and are in a position to quickly take them aside and set them (gently) straight about how they should be looking. As [long as ] the dress code is enforced by the immediate senior to the employee, it should be seen as being carried through, and then people won’t relax into a ‘it doesn’t really matter’ mode.”
Arden Clise, a business etiquette consultant also believes that managers and supervisors, not HR, should be responsible for policing company dress codes because she believes “if you aren’t being held accountable by your manager, you won’t change your ways.”
You’re probably thinking that no one who responded to my query sided with Brooke Howell; well, you’re wrong.
Barbara DesChamps, wardrobe consultant of Chateau Publishing had this to say about the matter:
“The employee’s immediate supervisor or the person just above that should concentrate on employee productivity and not get bogged down in dress-code issues, especially if they involve revealing clothing. We would prefer that supervisors not have this type of conversation with employees. It can be misinterpreted.
“Dress codes should reflect the company image and be fairly uniform, although we understand that employees who meet the public or travel on company business may have to meet a higher standard, especially if they travel to other countries.
“Ideally, HR would give new employees some handouts that describe the company image. However, too often, this is a list of don’ts instead of dos. It would be better to give new employees the tools to enhance their personal appearances and personalities while projecting a professional look in keeping with the industry and the places where they do business. I do presentations on this, customized for each company, and have written the Custom Wardrobe book (full title in sig block below) to help companies, entrepreneurs and the self-motivated.
“What I hear is that recent graduates have a great need for this info. ;-)”
Well, there you have it. While most people disagree with Howell that the burden of policing the company dress code should fall on HR’s shoulders, everyone agrees that employees should be given clear guidelines about what is or isn’t appropriate attire for the workplace. The entire staff has an easier time doing their jobs when they’re not being distracted by someone wearing offensive or inappropriate clothing at work.

Originally posted by Candice A

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