No costume. No tie. No problem these days.
The casualty of office attire began before the pandemic, but COVID took it to a new level as many employees were working remotely.
Now that employees are returning to the workplace, business casual seems to be the predominant theme, but companies would be well advised to remind employees of dress code expectations to avoid problems later, experts say.
“My advice to employers is to be proactive,” says Domenique Camacho Moran, partner at Farrell Fritz in Uniondale. “Tell employees what to expect on a regular basis. “
During the summer, it’s okay to remind staff “we don’t want beachwear,” she says. Many employers, including her own law firm, she says, have switched to business casual.
But even that could be open to interpretation if employers aren’t clear, Moran says, noting that “casual business has been redefined industry by industry.”
For example, business casual in a law firm isn’t ripped jeans and graphic t-shirts, but could be dockworkers and a golf shirt with a belt, she says.
Moran says she still likes to wear women’s suits for work, but wears outfits in lighter colors and prints for casual outfits.
But it is better to set expectations.
“Every business will need to be really final and offer clear guidelines on what will and will not be expected,” says Alexis DeSalva Kahler, Brooklyn-based fashion and retail analyst and expert.
For example, instead of just saying “business casual” is appropriate, make it clear that t-shirts are allowed but tank tops are not, and jeans are allowed but aged jeans are not, she says.
The relaxed policy can continue
Kahler says dress codes were relaxed before the pandemic and likely will be more relaxed as employees return to work.
But she doesn’t think it will get to the point where employees will wear house clothes like tracksuits.
“A lot of people do a mix of work from home and work in the office and the dress codes will reflect that,” Kahler said.
MaryAnne Hyland, acting dean and professor of human resources management at the Robert B. Willumstad School of Business at Adelphi University in Garden City, agrees. According to her, “there had already been a movement towards more casual attire and there will likely be more companies adopting this as employees return to work on site.”
“Dress for the day”
This is the case at Cona Elder Law PLLC in Melville, says COO Julie Wyetzner.
The firm has a “Dress for the Day” policy where it is casual by default and professional if lawyers are meeting with clients or colleagues.
“For us, business casual is neat and tidy, but doesn’t have to be suits and dresses,” says Wyetzner.
Dress for charity
The company also allows jeans on casual Fridays, which is linked to a fundraising element. Every Friday, each employee pays $ 5 to dress up. Contributions are matched by the company and donated to a charity each quarter, Wyetzner says.
Certainly, laid-back business is here to stay and is seen as an advantage by many employers, says Jeff Agranoff, director of human resources consulting at Jericho-based Grassi Advisors & Accountants.
That’s a plus at Grassi too, he says, noting that “we’ve always had flexibility in our dress code.”
Four years ago, the company adopted the casual business. Then two years later jeans were allowed where appropriate with a professional top. The company is now in the process of switching to a “Dress for the Day” policy stemming from the pandemic, as half of its employees are still on hybrid work schedules.
Agranoff emphasizes that even if you are on a Zoom call with a client, you need to dress appropriately.
Employers have the right to adopt dress code policies and enforce those policies, Moran said, adding that enforcement usually takes the form of advice, warnings or, if necessary, termination of employment.
Any dress code policy, Hyland says, should also be applied consistently. Make sure there is no gender bias i.e. don’t impose stricter dress requirements on women than on men or vice versa, she says.
Moran adds that employers should also provide reasonable accommodations for a disability or religious reasons.
And remember who is having the conversation if there is a violation. Ideally, it should be human resources.
“You want to avoid a problem of sexual harassment,” says Moran.
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