September 9, 2020

The Great Flip-Flop Debate

The Great Flip-Flop Debate

Summer is here and the familiar sound of “flip-flop” can be heard in offices across the Commonwealth.  What does your dress code policy say about flip-flops?  Does your policy prohibit certain items, like flip flops, but employees are allowed to wear them anyway?  Does your policy provide enough specifics to guide supervisors and employees in determining what is appropriate?  For example, while many dress code policies categorize “flip-flops” as inappropriate footwear, there is a consistent debate over what an inappropriate flip-flop is versus an appropriate sandal or open toe shoe. 

Cities can prevent this debate, and others, by adopting a dress code with clear guidelines that match its practice.  Questions surrounding summer attire provide cities an opportunity to take a closer look at their policies.  Every city has unique demands and expectations that dictate what is and is not appropriate dress.  The key is for the dress code policy to thoughtfully match these expectations.  Some questions to consider when reviewing the dress code policy include:

Does your policy match your practice?

Cities often have dress code policies that have not been reviewed in recent years.  Societal changes have made more casual work attire appropriate in some instances.  Additionally, a change in leadership often ushers in a different work environment and, thus, a different standard of dress.  Maybe jeans were previously prohibited but now are in line with appropriate attire.  A good dress code policy is one that provides helpful guidance to what is appropriate and inappropriate in practice.  Leaders should routinely review the dress code to ensure it mirrors expectations and practices.

Does the dress code provide specific guidance to employees and supervisors?
Simply stating a dress code is “business casual”, for example, is not enough.  Without specific examples, employees are left to guess what attire would meet the criteria.  Additionally, supervisors are left to make judgment calls which creates a risk inconsistent enforcement.  Providing a list of specific examples of what is appropriate and inappropriate takes the guess work out of compliance.  Our KLC model policy includes some of the following examples:



Collared shirts


Dress slacks

Wind pants or other athletic apparel


Tank tops

Are examples gender neutral?
When providing specific examples, cities should not provide gender specific requirements.  This occurs when a dress code sets forth separate expectations for men and for women.  Cities do not want to create different standards for men and women.  Instead, a single list should be provided without reference to gender when listing clothing items.  For example, appropriate clothing could include midthigh-length shorts, which would apply to men and women.  Additionally, the KLC model policy addresses facial hair but does so without utilizing gender specific words.  Removing gender from the dress code assists supervisors in gender neutral enforcement.

Are any appropriate exceptions acknowledged?
Some exceptions to the dress code may be appropriate.  For example, a specific department may have a different dress code based on their job requirements.  If a department will consistently have different rules, be sure to acknowledge that in the dress code.  Depending on the specifics, it might make sense to simply reference the department supervisor’s guidelines.  In other instances, it may be more appropriate to include the different dress code in the overall policy.

Are hygiene guidelines included?
This is always a difficult subject to address but is more manageable when a guideline is in place.  Our KLC model dress code policy states, “For all employees, professional appearance also means that the city expects you to maintain good hygiene and grooming while working.”  Cities can also consider adding language that offensive odors, fragrances or otherwise, are not permitted.  When supervisors must address a body odor, unclean appearance, or other hygiene issue with an employee, it is helpful to be able to refer to the policy.  It also sets the expectation for employees that good hygiene is a personnel issue and is important for everyone to comply to have a positive working environment. 

Are consequences for dress code infractions specific enough to provide consistency?
The dress code policy should outline a standard process for addressing dress code violations.  Typically, an employee will be asked to leave work to remedy the infraction and will not be compensated for the time needed to do so.  The process should be clearly outlined, including whether the employee will need to use vacation or comp time for the time out of the office.

Are supervisors trained to consistently enforce?
A policy is only as good as the enforcement.  If supervisors are inconsistent with enforcement, employees are left to guess what is and is not appropriate.  Inconsistent enforcement also undercuts the policy and, if it continues long enough, leads to a policy that no longer mirrors practice.  Supervisors should understand the importance of enforcement and be encouraged to propose changes to guidelines that are incompatible with practice for consideration.

Do you have a signed acknowledgment of the dress code from each employee?
A signed acknowledgement of the policy should be obtained when an employee is hired and with each drafting change.  Many cites incorporate the dress code policy in their personnel handbook.  If so, acknowledgement of the personnel policies is sufficient.

Additional considerations:
Consider adopting designated casual days or a summer dress code, if appropriate for your city.  This can provide a morale boost among employees.  It also can help ensure continued compliance with the dress code, preventing potential lax enforcement in the summer months from turning in to inconsistent enforcement year-round.

KLC offers member cities the Personnel Policy Review Program.  If you would like assistance in reviewing your city’s dress code policy, or any personnel policy, please contact Andrea Shindlebower Main for more information.