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Dressing for Success: Choosing the Right Attire for the Job

Starting at a new job can be a stressful and awkward moment in life.  You have so many questions racing through your mind:

  • Will I catch on quickly?
  • Am I qualified to even do this job?
  • Will the people be nice to work with?
  • What do I need to bring on my first day?

Among the many details of on-boarding and training, the question of how to dress for your new position can get lost in the shuffle.

There are three basic types of dress when it comes to the workplace:

  • Casual
  • Business Casual
  • Professional

There are grey areas in between these basic types of dress, but for the most part these three are the most common you will run into.  The following definitions will help you avoid confusion and be sure your attire fits the expectations of your new company.


Dressing casual does not indicate you can dress sloppy or inappropriate. Clothing should always be clean, wrinkle-free and must not be overly revealing or offensive.  Depending on the dress code in your workplace, you may be allowed to wear T-shirts and sneakers; however, always be neat and think about your appearance.


  • Sundress
  • Long or short skirt
  • Khakis or nice jeans
  • Shorts (depending on occasion and climate)
  • Plain T-shirt (no slogans), polo shirt, turtleneck
  • Casual button-down blouse


  • Khakis or good jeans (clean, no wrinkles or holes)
  • Cargo or Bermuda shorts—depending on occasion and climate
  • Plain T-shirt (no slogans), polo shirt, turtleneck
  • Casual button-down shirt and/or sweater
  • Loafers, sneakers (with or without socks), sandals

Business Casual

A business casual dress code simply means that you don’t need to wear a dress suit for both men and women.  Clothing should always be clean, wrinkle-free and most certainly does not include jeans or t-shirts.


  • Skirt, khakis, or pants
  • Open-collar shirt, knit shirt or sweater (no spaghetti straps or décolleté)
  • Dressy top
  • Dressy pants outfit
  • Dress


  • Seasonal sport coat or blazer with slacks or khakis
  • Dress shirt, casual button-down shirt, open-collar or polo shirt
  • Optional tie
  • Loafers or loafer-style shoes, and socks


When you dress professional, you are dressing to impress. Professional attire consists of neutral colors and conservative footwear for both men and women.  Individuals should have clean grooming, wrinkle-free clothes and pay attention to the details: buttons, tie length, straight collars, etc.


  • Suit
  • Business-style dress
  • Dress with a jacket
  • Stockings (optional in summer)
  • Heels, low or high


  • Dark business suit
  • Matching vest (optional)
  • Dress shirt
  • Conservative tie
  • Dress shoes and dark dress socks

There are several opportunities leading up to your new career to learn appropriate attire.  During all interviews, take note on attire of other employees and better prepare yourself should you receive an offer of employment.  During your offer of employment, ask how you should dress on your first day.  On your first day, cover the topic of appropriate attire with your new supervisor. Understanding what is expected will help avoid uncomfortable conversations about what you have been wearing to work.

Remember, what you wear says a lot about you and the company you’ll be working for. So, consider your company, your teammates, clients, management, and your position when reaching into your closet, and you’ll be sure to come out a winner.  Remember that it is always best to dress, not for the position you’re in, but the position you WANT TO BE in.

Dear Atty: When it’s More then Just a Disruptive Employee.

Dear Atty:

We have an employee who has been working for us for about five months as an administrative assistant. Recently she has become disruptive in meetings and disturbing her coworkers at their desks for unexplained reasons. In addition, she has been very disrespectful to her supervisor and has been late getting her work completed. Last month I called her in to give her a formal warning about her behavior. We talked things over and she agreed that she would work on her behavior and time management. She also disclosed that she has some mental health issues and would work on getting her medication under control. She improved for a few days but her behavior is becoming more and more erratic. I would like to fire her as her behavior is really affecting the entire office. Not knowing her diagnosis, I am worried if there are any legal ramifications for firing someone with a mental disability.



Dear Puzzled:

This is a tricky situation because there is no clear-cut answer. Individuals with mental disabilities can be covered by both the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Wisconsin Fair Employment Act (WFEA); both laws make it illegal to discriminate against individuals with mental disabilities. While the two laws agree on that point, they disagree on how to handle workplace performance issues that may be caused by mental disabilities.

The Law: The ADA is enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). According to the EEOC, an employer can hold an employee to the same performance standards as other employees regardless of whether the employee’s performance is adversely affected by their mental disability. The WFEA, however, takes the opposite approach. Under the WFEA, if an employee’s poor performance is due, in part, to their mental disability, disciplining that employee for poor performance is seen as discipline “because of” the disability, i.e., it would be illegal to impose the discipline.

When two laws conflict your safest bet is to follow the one that is more favorable to the employee. In this case, that would mean not disciplining or firing the employee in question – – at least not yet.

As you probably know, under the ADA and WFEA an employer has an obligation to provide reasonable accommodations to an employee with a disability. Cases that have interpreted the WFEA have found that providing the disabled employee with “clemency and forbearance” from the employer’s performance standards is a form of reasonable accommodation. An employer, however, does not need to suspend its performance expectations indefinitely.

At this point you are probably saying to yourself, “that’s all fine and good, but what should I actually
do?” To answer that, lets focus on a couple of points that you raised in your initial question.

First, you said that your employee was working on getting her medication under control. You then mentioned that her poor behavior started up again a “few days later.” A few days typically is not enough time to allow changes in medication to have their desired effect. You need to give your employee more time to try to get her condition under control through changes in her medication.

The next question you probably are asking yourself is, “well, how much time do I need to give her?” The answer to that question brings up a second point that you raised in your initial question. You stated that you do not know her diagnosis. Most employers don’t know that when they are in the process of trying to develop a reasonable accommodation for an employee they have the right to contact the employee’s doctor.  You should contact the employee’s doctor in writing and ask whether a change in medication ever will change your employee’s behavior and if so, how long it will take.

If the doctor answers that no change in behavior ever will occur, you may then be in the position to fire your employee. Again, “clemency and forbearance” from your reasonable performance standards does not need to be given indefinitely. It is very likely, however, that the doctor will respond by saying that the change in medication should control the behavior and will give you some sense of how long it will take or that change to occur. At that point, I think your best course of action is to try to accommodate your employee’s behavior for the time period specified by the doctor for the change in medication to take effect.

I know that this answer was more complicated than you would have liked. But, dealing with mental health issues is no simple matter.


Dear Atty: Pregnancy disclosure and the law

Dear Attorney:

My company recently hired a new employee, Mary, to work on an important project for a new client. The client’s project has a nine-month completion date. Unbeknown to me at the time of hire, Mary also was working on a project of her own with a nine-month completion date; she told me today that she is pregnant. My concern is that Mary will need time off during this crucial project for our new client and that the completion could be delayed. I also feel betrayed by the fact that Mary did not disclose her pregnancy until after she was hired. What should I do? Can I fire Mary for not telling me about her pregnancy during the hiring process?
Baby Blues


Dear Baby:

I am sorry that you have found yourself in the midst of this immaculate deception. The issue of whether a pregnant woman should disclose her pregnancy during the hiring process is a tricky one. On one hand, many women believe, perhaps rightfully so, that if they disclose their pregnancy the employer will find an excuse not to hire them. On the other hand, many employers feel deceived when a woman waits until after she has been hired to disclose her pregnancy; this often has a negative effect on the employment relationship going forward.

In order to address your concerns, let’s start with what the law says:

The Law: First, you need to know that an applicant for employment has no legal duty to disclose her pregnancy. Second, pregnant women are covered by a federal law called the Pregnancy discrimination Act (PDA). Under that law, discrimination based on pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions is a form of sex discrimination prohibited by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Essentially, the PDA requires that pregnant employees be treated the same as non-pregnant employees who are similar in their ability or inability to work. Stated even more simply, the PDA views pregnancy as a type of temporary disability. As such, an employer must treat the pregnant employee in the same manner that it would a non-pregnant employee who is suffering from a temporary disability, e.g., a back injury, etc.

With this in mind, consider how you would handle the situation if, instead of hiring Mary, you had hired a male employee, Joseph. Let’s say that eight months into the client’s project, Joseph injured his back and needed to be off work for a month. Even though Joseph’s absence would not be covered by the Family and Medical Leave Act (because Joseph had not been employed long enough to be covered), you undoubtedly would allow Joseph the time off to recuperate and would not terminate his employment. The PDA requires that you treat Mary in the same manner.

It also is worth noting that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has heightened its scrutiny of pregnancy related claims. In short, this is an area that is fraught with perilous perils.

The best approach to take with Mary has nothing to do with the law. You should meet with her and explain your concerns regarding how the pregnancy may impact your client’s project. You should invite her to suggest possible solutions as to how she can balance her pregnancy and your company’s needs.
I can appreciate that my response likely is unsatisfying. At a gut level, it feels wrong that your company cannot simply fire Mary and hire someone else who actually will be available to complete this important client project. If you were to do so, however, I fear that, in addition to Mary’s baby, a lawsuit will be born.


What to Consider Before Accepting a Job Offer

Signature CCO

Part 1

Whether you are still looking for your dream job or you’ve landed an offer, now is the right time determine your must-haves before signing on the dotted line. This two-part series will help you consider your options.

Your Co-Workers

Ask to meet the people that you will be working most closely with before you accept an offer. This will allow you to use their first impression to decide if your personalities will mesh. This is particularly important if you are planning to stay there long term. Your dream job can quickly become a nightmare if your co-workers have difficult personalities.

The Office Environment & Culture

Make sure to request a tour before you sign a contract. Pay close attention to conversations, the decor and what people are wearing. This will let you know if you are headed towards a formal or a more laid back work environment. One is not better than the other, it is a matter of preference. For many people, the office culture can influence their happiness level at work.

Also, take note of your potential desk area, their technology and their kitchen, breakroom, and bathroom conditions. You do not want to end up working in a dimly lit, unkempt place without the resources and technology that you need to do your job.

Stability & Forward Momentum

What direction is the company headed in? That is a perfect question to ask before you accept a job offer. Don’t just take their word for it; do your own research! There is little point in finding the perfect job if it is not going to be there for you.

Room to Grow

If moving up within a company is important to you, consider what career paths are available. Don’t be discouraged if there isn’t a clear path that is obvious to you right away. Consider how you could create your own. Think outside of the box.

Keep an eye out for more helpful tips and our conclusion in Part 2.

What are some things that you think people should consider before accepting a job offer?

Angelica Headshot UpdatedBy: Angelica Dudenhoefer is the Marketing Coordinator at Drake & Company, a staffing firm based in Madison, Wisconsin. Drake & Company specializes in temporary, temp-to-hire, and direct hire administrative, clerical and legal placements. Since 1978, Drake has reached beyond skills and qualifications to match candidate personalities with a company’s culture. You can connect with Angelica by email or on LinkedIn and you can find Drake & Company on FacebookTwitterLinkedInGoogle+,Instagram and Pinterest.

Dear Atty., Do I Legally Have To Tell The Truth About Why I Fired Someone?

Attorney Pete Albrecht

Lie vs Truth CCO

Dear Attorney:

We have a woman in our office named Bev. Let me start by saying that Bev is one of the nicest people you ever will meet. Unfortunately, she also is dumber than a box of rocks. Despite repeated instructions, she continues to make the same mistakes over and over again. We now are in the position of having to let her go. I am the one who will have to break the news to Bev. I am wondering if I have to tell her the specific reasons why we are ending her employment. I really do not want to hurt her feelings. Is it okay if I just tell her something along the lines of “its just not working out?”


Sometimes the Truth Hurts

Dear Truth:

While it is understandable that you do not want to hurt Bev’s feelings, you are not doing her or your company any favors by avoiding the truth. Legally, you could be placing your company at risk if Bev should file some sort of a discrimination claim. To better understand this point, consider how the burdens of proof work in a discrimination case.

The Law: In discrimination cases, courts typically use what is referred to as the “shifting burdens” test. First, the plaintiff (the person bringing the lawsuit) must establish what is called a prima facie case.  This is pretty simple. The plaintiff need only show that she is a member of a protected class; was performing satisfactorily; and suffered some adverse employment action, such as being fired. Once the plaintiff establishes her prima facie case, the burden shifts over to the employer to show that it had a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for taking the adverse action; e.g., performance issues. Once the employer establishes that, the burden shifts back to the plaintiff one more time. If the plaintiff can show that the reasons offered by the employer for the adverse action are a lie (the legal word is “pretext”), the court can draw the inference that the employer’s actions were discriminatory. The theory is that if the employer felt the need to lie about the reasons for its actions it is likely that the employer was lying in order to cover up a discriminatory motive.

Now, let’s take all of that and apply it to a possible situation that could arise with Bev. Even though you have legitimate, performance based reasons for terminating Bev’s employment, let’s say that you don’t share those reasons with Bev and, instead, simply tell her that she is being fired because “its not working out.” Then, suppose that Bev files a discrimination claim, such as age discrimination, against your company. During the lawsuit, you are pressed by Bev’s attorney to articulate the reasons why Bev was fired. This could occur many months after she actually was fired. At that point, for the first time, you disclose the actual, performance related issues for why Bev was let go. Her attorney then confronts you and says, “wait a minute, that’s not what you told Bev when you fired her. You gave her a completely different story.” The attorney presses you further and asks, “which is it – – were you lying then or are you lying now?”

Can you see how it could appear as though you are raising the performance related issues for the termination as an after-the-fact way to justify the termination decision? Can you see how doing so could be twisted into creating the impression that the performance related reasons for her termination are actually a lie? Now, go back to the shifting burdens approach that was discussed earlier. If the employer’s proffered reasons for the adverse action can be seen as a lie, i.e., pretext, the legal inference is created that the employer actually was acting with a discriminatory motive.

This is a long-winded way of telling you what you already knew: telling the truth is the right thing to do even if it sometimes may hurt. And, when it comes to employment matters, telling the truth is the best approach, from a legal standpoint.



The “Dear Atty.” column is aimed at answering employers’ legal questions that surround issues in human resources. Attorney Pete Albrecht of Albrecht Backer Labor & Employment Law, S.C. welcomes you to submit questions here for future editions of “Dear Atty.”

If you would like additional information about this topic, please contact Pete Albrecht. He is the president and a shareholder at Albrecht Backer Labor and Employment Law. Pete has represented employers for over 28 years and his law office is located in Madison, Wisconsin.

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