That’s what the New York Times said in a piece in the Fashion & Style section in May entitled The End of the Office Dress Code. This may or may not be true but in any case, with summertime underway, now may be a good time to review company policy on attire.
History of Casual Friday
The demise of dress codes, if this is true, is said to have begun with the advent of Casual Friday. According to one account, Casual Friday began when the Hawaiian garment industry encouraged businesses in that state to let workers wear Hawaiian shirts to the office once a week. That was in 1966. Then, in the 1990s, employers on the mainland figured they too could offer a no-cost perk by allowing workers to dress casually when Levi’s launched a campaign to sell a new product — Dockers — for this purpose. It became an acceptable alternative to the suit and tie.
Status of Casual Friday
Casual Friday has persisted, and in fact expanded. The concept of casual attire all of the time has grown in part from leaders in Silicon Valley, such as Steve Jobs (with his black turtleneck) and Mark Zuckerberg (with his hoodie). Thus, casual attire all of the time is increasingly becoming the norm. For example, many accounting firms are allowing employees to forego the suit and tie/dress and high heels and dress comfortably.
Should you embrace casual attire? With changing demographics in the workplace, you should recognize that Millennials for the most part prefer the option to be casually dressed. Since this is a no-cost employee benefit, permitting casual attire will help your company to be viewed as a favored place to work without any additional cost on your part.
If you want to embrace casual attire as the norm but still want to maintain certain standards of attire, you can have a dress code. It’s perfectly legal, as long as you do it right. The U.S. Department of Labor has guidelines for company dress codes. Here are some key points:
- The dress code must apply to all employees or to all employees within certain job categories. Generally, the dress code must apply to both men and women or you can face claims of sex discrimination. With gender identity issues coming into the workplace, use care in crafting the dress code.
- If you require uniform dress that conflicts with a worker’s ethnic beliefs or practices, you cannot treat the worker less favorably because of their national origin. For example, if your dress code prohibits ethnic dress (e.g., traditional African or East Indian attire), but otherwise permits casual dress, you cannot treat workers less favorably because of their national origin. The same is true for religious practices. If a worker requests an accommodation, you must modify the dress code or permit an exception to it unless doing so would result in undue hardship. For example, in most types of workplaces you must permit a Muslim woman to wear a hajib unless it would result in an undue hardship to you.
- If an employee requests an accommodation in the dress code because of a disability, you must modify the dress code or permit an exception to it unless doing so would result in an undue hardship.
Going casual all the time, if you haven’t already done so, may be the thing to do. It’s advisable for you to have an employment law attorney review your dress code and advise you on any accommodations you are considering making so you avoid claims of discrimination in the workplace.