Having the Dress Code Talk With Your Group Practice

By Allison Puryear, LCSW, CEDS on November 11, 2020

The world has changed a little since I was in graduate school. New grads and new group practice owners have reached out a lot recently about two things: visible tattoos and office dress codes.

I think we can all agree that there are bigger concerns going on in the world right now than a clinician having a visible quarter sleeve tattoo or wearing a ripped pair of jeans to a session. Unless someone's coming to work dressed as Batman, I don't see this as that big of a deal.

So, how do you have these conversations as a group practice owner? If we were chatting, I’d ask some questions regarding just what it is about a visible tattoo that matters to you. What are the real sticking points, and what would you be willing to let go of? In what ways are you afraid it will impact the level of care you provide or your group's reputation? I think we should always question our assumptions about what our employees "should" be doing to make sure it's not just our own biases when it comes to bodies or fashion. If you determine something does impact client care or your reputation, you need to be ready to answer it concisely when staff members challenge it. Also, be prepared to have this conversation when you hire or take on a supervisee. It's not a kindness to let someone think something is okay when it isn'tand pivoting after the fact may feel and look worse reputation-wise than not addressing your expectations upfront.

Once you've gotten clear on where the line is, the very first step for group owners is to look at your policy and procedure manual and make sure there's something in there to address visible tattoos and general dress code guidelines. If there's not, add something and be specific. Then, bring the addendum around and have each employee sign it. You may have to look into your specific state's regulations if they are a contractor rather than an employee, as you may not be able to dictate what a contractor wears.

I'd also broadly address it as a group in a meeting if you have more than one employee in the office. Don’t exactly position it as a topic that’s open to discussion, but let them know that you're making it an official policy and are open to answering questions. This may not be a popular decision, and that's okay. You don't own this practice to be Captain Popularity, do you? Simply present it and respond with as little defensiveness as you can muster. It's your practice; this is a reasonable thing for you to decide. If it's a deal-breaker for them, then they can make the choice to leave. If you have a healthy, happy work environment in your practice, they'll ask their questions, maybe voice some frustration, and take it in stride.

* The content of this post is intended to serve as general advice and information. It is not to be taken as legal advice and may not account for all rules and regulations in every jurisdiction. For legal advice, please contact an attorney.

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