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Employee dress code policy

Question:

While we expect employees to keep hair out of their faces, what we will not tolerate is face jewelry. We had a server come in with "snakebites" and I about croaked. She no longer works here. Are we completely out of it? 

– Lois Johnson, Co-Owner, Haines Steak House, Haines, OR

Answer:

You’re not out of it.  There are some restaurants where snakebite piercings would be acceptable or even perceived as cool for servers to have. Your question is really about the limits of enforcing an employee dress/appearance code—where is the line?

Andrew Rigie, Executive Vice President of the New York State Restaurant Association says, "Restaurants may require employees to comply with personal hygiene, dress and jewelry codes as long as they are consistently applied among workers…If possible, we advise that restaurants incorporate these requirements in employee handbooks, which may be developed in coordination with legal counsel."

The main problem you are having is that you didn’t make your appearance policy clear from the outset in your employee manual, bulletin board postings, and employment offer. Since an employee’s appearance can change over time, it becomes difficult to backtrack if these things aren’t clearly spelled out.

In developing your uniform policies keep in mind that for firmest legal footing and employee buy-in you should:

  • Allow exceptions for legitimate religious or medical reasons. For example, a head covering may be a religious requirement for a particular employee.
  • Keep uniform codes job-related and explain the reasons for them in your trainings. For example, jewelry can be a hazard as it can drop into food, harbor bacteria, or get caught in equipment.
  • Enforce your policies across the board and make your expectations clear from the start. Chances are, if someone knows upfront that the job requires them to shave their beard or remove their tongue stud, for example, they may simply look elsewhere.

More on employee dress codes here and here.

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