Skip to content

Addressing workplace grooming policy issues: 8 tips


Does your business have a dress code policy?

Even if it’s not a formal one, you’ve probably communicated your expectations regarding how employees should dress in some form or fashion (no pun intended).

But what about personal grooming? Do your employees know what’s expected of them when it comes to hygiene and appearance?

It’s a delicate subject, but one that still needs to be addressed. With beards, tattoos and piercings becoming more commonplace in popular culture, it’s just good business to make sure your company dress code addresses grooming, hygiene and body art, among other things.

The good news is, dress codes and grooming policies are generally considered legal, as long as they’re not discriminatory.

Keep reading to learn how grooming guidelines differ from (and build on to) a dress code policy. You’ll also gain insight as to why you need grooming guidelines at all, along with eight tips for crafting them fairly.

Dress code versus grooming policy

First things first: How is a grooming policy different from a dress code?

These two types of policies aren’t so much different as they are complementary to one another. In other words, your grooming guidelines should complement your dress code by addressing personal appearance issues that extend beyond attire.

A good rule of thumb is to think of grooming as having to do with alterations or applications to the body itself. In comparison, dress code is more concerned with what is worn on the body.

For example, hairstyles, beards, deodorant and cologne are in the grooming category, but the style of dress (i.e., business casual, no denim, etc.) would be considered dress code. Ideally, your dress code policy and grooming guidelines work together to convey a good impression of the employee and, more importantly, your company brand and image.

Over time, your company’s expectations of employee dress and grooming may change a little or a lot, depending on the trends and customs of the day and the differences between generations.

The business case for a grooming policy

Developing effective grooming standards and guidelines can help you reinforce your business’s dress code and ensure that your company is perceived in a positive light. Specifically, when you include a well-crafted grooming policy in your handbook, it allows your business to:

  • Uphold and ensure consistent company standards: A dress code alone will often fall short if it doesn’t communicate expectations for employees’ personal grooming. What good does it do for an employee to wear suitable attire to work without following good grooming practices? Even the sharpest three-piece suit won’t make up for poor hygiene.
  • Minimize distractions and preserve productivity: When you have a standard for employee grooming, it allows your workforce to concentrate on job priorities without unnecessary distractions. After all, an employee whose excessive perfume triggers their coworker’s allergy attack may be as disruptive as someone who talks too much or too loudly at work.
  • Reflect core company values: Your company’s grooming and dress code standards should be in line with your target market, and they should reflect your core values. For example, if your client base is typically conservative, your dress code policy and grooming guidelines might require business attire with neatly trimmed beards and no visible body art. Know your customer and dress accordingly.
  • Ensure a safe work environment: Grooming standards aren’t just important for your company’s image – sometimes they also impact workplace safety. For instance, if you have employees who work with or around equipment, motors or other mechanical devices, hair length and personal accessories can pose a safety concern.

Even if employees are only momentarily exposed to these types of risks, consider grooming guidelines that instruct staff to tie back or cover their hair and remove accessories, such as dangling earrings and necklaces, when appropriate.

Keep in mind that it may be appropriate for your company to have different grooming guidelines for different types of work. Are some of your employees customer-facing, but others aren’t?

If so, one standard may apply to those employees who deal with customers (business attire, minimal facial hair, covered body art, etc.) while those in non-customer-facing positions may be permitted a more relaxed dress code (business casual, uniforms, etc.).

8 tips for effective grooming guidelines

Although it’s important to establish and properly communicate your company’s personal grooming standards, it’s also important that you respect others’ feelings and rights.

You want to take care in ensuring you don’t violate employees’ religious freedoms or impose on their creative expression. For instance, employees who practice certain faiths or beliefs may be required to wear long beards or an unconventional style of dress, accessories or adornments.

Personal hygiene is a sensitive issue that needs to be handled delicately as well. The following suggestions can help you craft an effective-but-fair grooming policy that’s respectful of all employees:

1. Be inclusive and thorough

If your dress code policy reflects grooming standards that could’ve been written in 1985, it’s definitely time to revisit it.

And don’t assume your employees ought to “just know” what they should and shouldn’t do. For instance, be sure to discuss if and when any tattoos or body piercings should NOT be displayed.

If the nature of your business dictates that employees with body art should cover it up when meeting with clients, then say so. But allow for exceptions – for example, those that are faith-based.

2. Get as specific as possible

What’s the most sure-fire way to avoid vague references to dress and grooming standards and give employees a clear-cut guide for what’s expected of them? Provide specific examples in your policies to give your workforce a solid understanding of acceptable and unacceptable grooming and dress behaviors.

3. Stay gender neutral

Make sure your grooming policy is gender neutral. This is key to help you avoid discrimination issues, i.e., one thing for men and another for women. And in an era when gender lines are becoming increasingly blurred, it’s even more prudent.

4. Remember the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

Always keep top of mind the ADA when formulating dress code and grooming policies – and how they may be applied. Often, an employee may want to fully comply with policy guidelines but may not be able to do so due to ADA implications that may stem from medication reactions or related physical limitations.

In certain cases, you may be required to make exceptions to your dress code policy as a reasonable accommodation for a disabled employee.

5. Spell everything out in your employee handbook

Your complete dress code policy, including any grooming standards, should be documented in your employee handbook. This makes it easy for your employees to reference guidelines anytime they have questions or concerns, and it provides an effective medium for formally communicating your expectations.

6. Make it part of new employee onboarding

Employee onboarding offers an ideal forum for setting expectations and giving new hires the tools they need to succeed. One of the most critical tools for their success is your employee handbook, and your company dress code and grooming standards should be included in it.

Talk about your employee handbook and its recommended uses as part of the onboarding process. Direct new employees to where they can find critical information, such as dress code and grooming standards. Literally, walk them through it.

7. Keep up with evolving laws and trends

Employment laws are constantly evolving. By the same token, so are social norms and practices. As such, it’s critical for your business to stay current about changes and updates to applicable employer-related laws and trends. When it comes to government-related HR issues, even unintentional non-compliance can cost you big.

8. Review and update annually

On an annual basis, make sure all employees review your employment policies and guidelines. Legal changes, including court decisions and new legislation, may require you to update your dress code and grooming policies – among other employment standards. A company manager should take the initiative by incorporating any related developments and considerations into your best practices.

Bonus tip: If an individual employee’s grooming habits are a challenge for your company, consider releasing a company-wide memo detailing workplace expectations of personal hygiene and appearance. This gives them an opportunity to self-correct before being “called out.”

If the problem persists, then you can have a personal meeting with the employee to discuss the company’s grooming policy and encourage appropriate changes that will resolve the issue.

Putting it all together

If you’re still not sure how to create a dress code policy and grooming guidelines that are both effective and compliant, consider working with a professional employer organization (PEO).

These organizations serve a diverse client base in developing and implementing a grooming policy. They specialize in providing administrative relief and better access to comprehensive employee benefits, while helping businesses minimize risks. Their knowledge and experience can position you to avoid problems and leverage your workforce to concentrate on core business matters.

Ready to learn more about what a PEO can do for your business? Download our free e-book, HR outsourcing: A step-by-step guide to professional employer organizations (PEOs).