Why You Should Have a Dress-Code Policy in Your Medical Practice

March 7, 2015

Do you have a specific dress-code policy implemented in your practice? If not, here's how to get started.

During a meeting this week, I decided it was time to touch on the practice's dress-code policy. This policy should be reviewed about once a year. I had heard from some of the front-office staff members that patients were making potentially inappropriate comments about their clothing, such as, "That shirt looks really nice on you," and "You have great legs, you must work out."

Although these comments may seem harmless to some, they can be the cause for all sorts of disasters (for both staff members and the practice) - especially if management had been approached. It is your responsibility to protect your employees from patients who choose to verbalize thoughts that should be kept to themselves. Having a solid dress-code policy in place is your first line of defense.

If you are not sure where to start, or what to include in your dress-code policy, here are some ideas:

• Employees are expected to dress in an appropriate, professional manner that portrays an image of confidence and security for patients. Cleanliness and neatness are absolutely necessary at all times. Distracting themes in appearance or dress, low-cut clothing, exposed midriff, evening wear, or sheer clothing are unacceptable.

• Clinical staff will wear collared shirts or scrubs, non-denim slacks, and closed-toed, non-sneaker shoes. A nametag will be worn if the name is not embroidered on the company shirt/scrubs.

• Front-office staff should dress in "business casual." They are required to wear nametags or company shirts. As stated above, distracting items in appearance or dress, low-cut clothing, exposed midriff, evening wear, T-shirts, or sheer clothing are unacceptable. Business-like open-toed shoes may be worn, not to include flip-flops or beach sandals.

• (Your practice name) and its directors reserve the right to ask employees who are not dressed in what is deemed a clean and professional manner to change their attire. Failure to comply with the policy will result in being sent home without pay. Further infraction will result in written disciplinary action as decided by the directors.

• Appearance and perception play a key role in patient service. The goal is to be dressed professionally; any employee with body art must ensure that it is covered at all times.

There is a time and place to express staff members' personality, and the workplace should not be that location. If employees follow these types of guidelines and patients still make inappropriate comments, take the offending patient aside, privately, and share your concerns about inappropriate conversation.

It's also important to note that if nine out of 10 employees follow the dress-code policy, and you have one outlier, taking that employee aside and reviewing your policy in a private conversation is much more appropriate than including the entire staff.

The dress-code policy is in place not only to protect your staff, but also to protect your practice. Comments made by patients can be construed by staff as sexual harassment, and contribute to a "threatening work environment." It is up to you to make sure these types of scenarios never happen. In the event they do, have a solid dress-code policy to land back on.