How to create a dress code staff will love

Setting a dress code at work

Next to letting someone go, talking to an employee about inappropriate work wear can be one of the most dreaded tasks for managers. The good news is that you can avoid these types of discussions – you just need to set a dress code.

Establishing a dress code clarifies expectations, and can help function as an employee engagement tool. After all, more than a quarter of Canadian workers admit they’re sometimes unsure about office-appropriate clothing

Here’s how to create a dress code staff will love.

Do you really need a dress code?

The short answer is yes. No matter how big or small your business is, a dress code sets the tone for what’s acceptable to wear to work and gives managers the tools to have a discussion around clothing if needed.

Legal matters

Can I ask employees to cover tattoos? What about piercings, flip flops, or high heels? These are likely just a few of the question that might come up when thinking about your dress code.

“Consult with your legal department or a legal consultant to ensure what’s being communicated is appropriate,” recommends Shelley Passingham, Branch Manager at OfficeTeam in Toronto.

Employers have a duty to ensure their dress code does not infringe on Human Rights legislation in Canada. For example, a dress code should be gender neutral and considerate of different cultures, sexual orientations, and religions within the workplace.

Look for information about dress code tips from your province’s human rights organization. For example, the Ontario Human Rights Commissions offers a helpful dress code checklist.


Whether creating or updating your dress code, getting staff involved in the process can help raise awareness and align your dress code with the company’s culture.

“It doesn’t hurt to get consensus of current employees to see what would make them more productive,” says Passingham.

Getting employees involved also raises awareness about a dress code and opens the door for employees to ask questions and make suggestions in a non-threatening way.

Try using an anonymous survey tool (like SurveyMonkey), an informal town hall meeting, or discussions among individual teams to get input and feedback from staff. Be sure to report back on what you heard and how that information fed into your new or updated dress code.

Be specific  

Many businesses today opt for a ‘business casual’ workplace – even traditionally more formal financial institutions are relaxing dress codes with about three-quarters of accounting and finance departments in Canada having a somewhat or very casual dress code.

But leaving “casual” up to interpretation could cause issues. For example, are jeans okay any day of the week? What about faded denim or jeans with rips? Are shorts okay? Yoga pants?

Make your dress code specific to clarify what’s expected from your staff. For example, it’s okay to specify that jeans should full-length and free from rips or holes, or that baseball hats and open toe shoes are not okay – just be sure to keep it gender neutral.

In summary, dress codes don’t have to be a drag to enforce and update.

Involve staff, make regular updates, keep it clear and simple, and your dress code will not only function as a practical tool, it could also help attract and retain employees.


See also:

How to implement a summer dress code

What to do when an employee is dressed inappropriately


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