A manager’s dilemma – Dress Code

What do you do when an employee dresses “inappropriately” in an office without an official or rigid dress code?

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I have seen this problem rear it’s head many times and in different scenarios.

Scenario #1 – An employee that wears, what some would call offensive, explicit T-shirts.  Not everyone is offended, but one or two employees may be.  As a manager, you may not think the shirt is offensive, however, you still need to be responsive to the complaining employee.  In this scenario I would suggest having the complaining employee email you their complaint, or verbalize with witness present.  After doing so, you can approach the “offending” employee and ask them not to wear that shirt to the office again.  You need not reveal the identity of the complaining employee at this point or ever if it matter is put to rest.

Why a witness in the room when you are speaking to the employee?  You always want to protect yourself from any accusations that may come up in the future, it is a healthy practice to maintain. 

Scenario #2 – A female employee comes into the office dressed in provocative manner or one that is more revealing than it should be.  There will always be the question of whether or not the way the person is dressed is “too” provocative or revealing.  In practice, the most effective way to decide this is pretty easy.  Are employees distracted and talking about it? If so, well, that in itself is enough to make that decision.  However, how do you handle this delicate matter?  For starters, I have always made sure that someone of authority along with a witness, takes that employee into a private room and discusses it with them.  What is important here, both of those people should be the same sex as the employee being spoken to.  It is best to let that employee know that their wardrobe is making others uncomfortable and is causing a disruption.   Ensure them that they are not being written up or it will not be held against, but they should not dress in that manner again.

Scenario #3 – One of the most difficult situations for any manager to be in.  You have an employee whose clothing has a terribly offensive odor and is intolerable working next to others.  Unfortunately, this scenario has happened more than a few times.  This again must be handled delicately, it is almost impossible not to hurt the employee’s feelings.  While in a perfect world, you would hope that their fellow employees would consider pulling them aside, this rarely happens and management is forced to take the lead.  For the employee, it is much worse to hear from management, as opposed to your coworker.


All too often we forget to consider the feelings of others…..both the offenders and the offended.  It is important to be responsive to your staffs problems and let them know you are their for them when needed.  After all, they spend as much as 30% of their life at work.

I would love to hear more comments and ideas from you!

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