Can clothing – or lack thereof – in the workplace create sexual harassment through a hostile work environment? Absolutely!
There are at least two ways that non-uniform attire in the workplace can cause a problem:
1) Wearing items that show too much, particularly repeatedly. This could be a top showing significant cleavage or pants worn too low. Not only are such outfits distracting, but wearing clothes that reveal body parts best left covered in the workplace – especially repeatedly – may constitute persuasive conduct that can give rise to a hostile work environment. One tip for employees to avoid problems: if you would wear it at the beach or to a club, it’s probably not work-appropriate.
2) Making sexual innuendos about someone else’s clothing. For instance, in Harris v. Forklift Systems (1993) 510 U.S. 17, part of the hostile work environment consisted of the company’s president making sexual innuendos about plaintiff’s and other women’s clothing. So even where someone is wearing a revealing item as in #1 above, it’s dangerous to use sexual words or innuendo to describe the body parts that are showing. On the other hand, it’s usually a good idea for a supervisor to ask that person to go home and change. That’s where company dress codes can be particularly helpful.
Summer can be the toughest season from HR professionals’ perspective when it comes to clothing and sexual harassment. Here’s a article on business dress codes for summer.