August 2, 2022
Laura L. Rubenstein
The other day I was speaking with an acquaintance who works as a tailor at a high-end men’s clothing store. Her manager had recently counseled her about the clothing and jewelry she wore to work, basically, “More clothing, less jewelry.” She replied to her manager that the customers liked her style and complimented her on the clothes and jewelry she wore. (She has a particular interest in big dangling earrings, big bangs and banana hair clips from the 80s. Lots of Aquanet, too.)
The manager then showed her a copy of the company’s dress code policy which stated, among other things, “No ostentatious earrings.” She asked him what the term “ostentatious” meant and he admitted he didn’t know the definition. She then went on to complain that if the company wanted her to dress a certain way, then they should give her money to buy clothes. The manager left her alone and she continued to wear what she wanted to work.
So, what are some takeaways for employers?
First, handbook policies should be written in simple language with the audience in mind. Words that require staff and management to use a dictionary or use subjective judgment should be avoided.
Second, if companies want staff to sell their clothing or products, they should either provide the clothing/products free or at a discount. For example, Under Armor gives employees a 50% discount on all products. Otherwise, if companies have expectations that staff wear a certain uniform, that should be specified during the interview process or at the outset of employment.
Third, make sure that dress policies serve a purpose. Employees meeting with customers should dress professionally to represent the company’s image appropriately, but do back office staff need to wear a suit?
Fourth, the manager didn’t resolve the issue. He exercised poor leadership. He should have told her specifically what was and was not acceptable and provided her with tips for how to dress differently to comply with written policy. Even if he didn’t share this information on the spot, he could have said, let me look into it and circle back with you. The employee left that conversation disgruntled and offended and the manager failed at a chance to appropriately address a legitimate concern.
For more questions about your company’s dress code, management training, or to discuss other workplace policies, contact Laura Rubenstein at 443-379-4013 or LRubenstein@RKWlawgroup.com.