DEAR MISS MANNERS: I own a small company and have one employee. Sean does a fantastic job at the office, but dresses rather casually. I am OK with this, as it is just him and me in the office, and I want everyone to be comfortable.
We are now doing new client presentations, and I need Sean’s expertise at these. I’ve asked him to dress in “business casual” attire for these events. However, he arrives on the day of the presentation with scuffed shoes and pants/shirt that are mismatched and below what I would consider business casual.
I know the clients will see this as unprofessional, and it may impact our ability to win new work. I suspect he may not have the background or knowledge to know how to dress properly for these situations.
I don’t want to be rude or overstep my bounds within the workplace, but how much can I direct his wardrobe? If he doesn’t own the proper attire, is it unreasonable to ask him to purchase it?
GENTLE READER: He likely thinks he already complied. “Business casual” is an oxymoron, vague and undefinable, so Miss Manners hardly blames its hapless followers for interpreting it as they wish.
It is not unreasonable for you, as his employer, to require a certain dress code, but you must be specific. “These clients are a bit more formal, so business attire -- a button-down shirt, dress shoes and pants that are not jeans or overly pocketed -- is probably warranted. I know that we are generally more casual in the office when it is just us, but we want to make a good impression in order to help win the account.”
While you do not have to offer any other assistance with this, making sure that his salary is commensurate with the ability to purchase new clothes would not be remiss. Nor would the recommendation of a good shoe polish.