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The longer you are in business and the bigger your business gets the greater the likelihood you will wind up with one of those uncomfortable situations where it will be necessary for management to have an uncomfortable (but necessary) conversation about any number of employee behavior. One very common uncomfortable conversation with employees is inappropriate dress in the workplace.

Let me start off by saying a rather powerful and effective preventative measure any employer can take to make such a conversation easier is to have clearly defined policies on the matter. If you don’t, and you have not run into this issue yet, now would be a great time to start!

Whether you are involved in the day-to-day goings on in the workplace, or you have hired management to work in your business while you work on it; establishing a protocol for employee behavior is crucial in setting the tone for office culture.

Awkward Conversation

Some finer points to make that awkward conversation easier on everyone:

  1. Establishing a specific employee dress code eliminates push-back questions like, “What about my clothing is inappropriate?”
  2. Thorough training and specific mention of a policy can help reduce confusion or honest oversights. If a specific policy is put in force and training is given at the onset of employment, maybe a simple email reminding employees of specific standards can help eliminate the need to call an individual out specifically.
  3. Again, being specific about dress code can eliminate a lot of problems from the beginning. Be sure to define what is acceptable in as much detail as possible as well as what is not. Helping individuals know what they can do specifically, can eliminate a lot of guesswork, instead of just giving them a list of what not to do.

What about when it gets uncomfortable? Say you have established a well-written policy, you’ve disclosed it in writing and in thorough training, and you’ve even sent out a friendly blanketed email to (hopefully) address an issue with an employee. Yet, a specific situation is still not resolved. What next? Like it or not, it is likely time to have that conversation (yes, the uncomfortable one).

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Problem Solving Tips

As uncomfortable as it may be, letting the issue go unresolved will be worse for everyone. So, here are some tips to help you successfully problem solve like a boss (because that is exactly what you are)!

  • Head it off before it gets out of control. Don’t delay having the conversation.
  • Have the meeting in a quiet, private setting where the employee will not feel like they are being put on the spot in front of peers.
  • Start by praising the employee for the many things they do right, and the value they are to your team. Make sure they know they are appreciated.
  • Be as specific about the problems as you can, but ask for them to contribute ideas on how to best resolve the concerns.
  • Where appropriate, mention the consequences of the violation. A violation for the sake of breaking the rules alone can come across as unnecessarily authoritarian, when reasons for the specific policy in place, or the effect the violated policy has had on the employee’s team can help develop a sense of understanding and a desire to comply in the future.
  • Whenever possible do not be alone in the meeting with the employee. Have another person present (this is especially critical when having such conversations with a member of the opposite sex).
  • Close the meeting on a positive note. Reaffirm the positive aspects of the person’s job performance. Remember, the objective here is to improve work morale and collective success of your workforce.
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Remember, you have a big picture of where you want your business to go. Your employees are the ones who will help it get there. Be honest, understanding, empathetic, and hold them all to the same standards. Create an environment where they want to meet and exceed those standards by defining what they are. This is as important for dress codes as it is for sales quotas and everything in between. Keep your work machine well-tuned by giving it the attention to detail every part of the whole deserves.

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