Tricky situation at work. Advice needed.

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ElleNChuck Posts : 50 Registered: 6/10/10
Tricky situation at work. Advice needed.
Posted: Jun 24, 2010 10:54 AM

I'm hoping you guys can give me some advice about a tricky situation I just found myself in at work.

I'm the office manager (silly, since there are only 3 of us) but technically, I'm the "boss." The General Manager came to me this morning regarding one of the people I supervise, we'll call her "Alice".

Alice is about 6.5 months pregnant and lately her clothing choices have been getting more and more casual. Too casual for even our laid-back office. My typical "uniform" is khaki shorts, a polo shirt and flip-flops. I keep top-siders in my office if I have to go downstairs where customers might see me. Lately Alice has been starting to wear what I can only describe as capri sweatpants with t-shirts that are getting a little too snug and the v-necks that were fine 6 months ago are getting a little too "boobalicious". I know she wants to be comfortable and it's been miserably hot but she has to cover the phones downstairs in the showroom every other day (car dealership) to give the receptionist a lunch break.

So how can I break it to her gently that sweatpants and too-tight t-shirts won't fly anymore? Alice is on the younger side (23) and this is her first "real" job out of college, not to mention her first baby. We don't have any sort of written dress code that I can use to back me up. The sweatpants are totally fine on the days she doesn't have to answer the phones, but the clevage is getting distracting! I don't want to upset her, but I can't just say "Hey Alice, cover the girls up!" Or can I?

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auntofthebride Posts : 9,354 Registered: 4/2/06
Re: Tricky situation at work. Advice needed.
Posted: Jun 24, 2010 3:19 PM Go to message in response to: ElleNChuck

Dear Elle,

You are on solid grounds asking her to cover her cleavage. Approach it something like this:

"We need to dress in a way that is not distracting to the customer. A shirt that shows too much of a lady's cleavage is distracting to the customer, not to mention the other employees. When too much of a lady's chest is on display, it's uncomfortable for others. The polite gentleman doesn't know where to look. The polite lady similarly doesn't want to appear to be staring. Thus, you need to wear shirts that cover your chest. Tight clothing, on anyone, is not appropriate in the workplace. You need to find some maternity pants or perhaps a dress that better suits your job."

"One potential problem is that someone could consider sexually distracting clothing as contributing to a hostile work environment. It creates a sexually charged environment where none should exist."

"Take this as a verbal warning. If you cannot or will not make a change, then in our at-will employment environment, this could be grounds for termination."

****

In my office, we had a similar situation. We are a conservative financial firm, and naturally expect people who want to work for us to "fit in" with clothing appropriate to a conservative financial firm. It was never a problem... until... one young man wore a sleeveless dress shirt to work! The shirt was styled just like any other male dress shirt, but was sleeveless. Thus, anyone coming near him got an eyeful of armpit hair.

The managers got together to say "Now, what do we do?". The upshot was that we did have to come up with a reasonable dress code. We batted ideas back and forth, anticipating what other issues might come up in the future. The proposed dress code was passed on to the employees for comments, then solidified. It is given to job candidates, with the unspoken message that "if you can't live with this, don't bother applying".

I suggest you, as office manager, do something similar. Come up with a defined dress code that suits your office, your climate, your customers, your industry and your business needs. You need to be comfortable, yet you need to look professional and keep peoples' eyes and minds on the job at hand, not someone's boobs and butt.

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ElleNChuck Posts : 50 Registered: 6/10/10
Re: Tricky situation at work. Advice needed.
Posted: Jun 24, 2010 6:25 PM Go to message in response to: auntofthebride

I do like the idea of coming up with a dress code for our department. Not only will it help the girls in the office learn what is appropriate work attire, but it will give me something to contribute at the weekly managers meeting. Win-win in my book :)

I think part of the problem I'm having is that I don't really see myself as being in charge. "Alice" and the other girl in my department are both hard workers, and extremely good at their jobs, so they need very little guidance as to their actual job duties. I've never been in the postion to have to reprimand someone or bring up a "touchy" subject like this before.

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auntofthebride Posts : 9,354 Registered: 4/2/06
Re: Tricky situation at work. Advice needed.
Posted: Jun 24, 2010 7:40 PM Go to message in response to: ElleNChuck

Dear Elle,

I understand your situation, but you are the boss / office manager and sometimes you just have to act like a boss.

It's frustrating for other employees to see a certain employee "get away with murder" just because the boss is too chicken to step in and say "knock it off". This causes low employee morale. Why should I take some time and effort to look decent and professional when I go to work if my office mate can show up looking like a bum or a slut?

I really think a well-conceived dress code is good for business. It de-personalizes things. Rather than say "You look like a hooker in that tight t-shirt", you can say "Tight t-shirts are contrary to the dress code."

If you need a good contribution to the managers meeting, this might be a good place to start.

Consider:

Employee position. People doing manual labor would have a different standard than those in the front office.

Male/Female differences: Yes, it's OK to have different requirements for men and women, just so long as you don't expect onerous compliance from one and not the other. You can, for example, require females to wear bras, but not males. We allow sleeveless shirts on females, but not males, so long as the female shaves underarm hair and only during hot summer months.

Piercings and tattoos: What best suits your business? Define acceptable and non-acceptable.

Weather conditions: Can females go bare-legged during hot summer months? Must they wear pantyhose with dresses & skirts during colder months?

Friday casual: Yes? No?

This is a short list. You can probably think of other issues that pertain to your business.

Once a proposed dress code has been drawn up and passed around the managers for comment, make it public. Pass it around the employees for comment, with a deadline. Then, take the employees' comments into consideration and prepare the official version.

Finally, encode the penalties for violation. What happens? Is the employee simply given a warning? How many warnings? Is the employee sent home? Can they come back that same day? Do they lose pay? Make sure that anything here has the full backing of management, and is in compliance with the law.

***

We had a funny thing happen when we passed around our proposed dress code for comment. We said "No tattoos". Someone anonymously said "What about the tattoo on my butt?".

Well... we are not in the Butt Inspection Biz, so we amended the dress code to say "No tattoos may be visible while wearing business clothing." Got a tattoo on your butt? We profoundly don't care.

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myras Posts : 396 Registered: 2/26/10
Re: Tricky situation at work. Advice needed.
Posted: Jun 25, 2010 2:04 PM Go to message in response to: ElleNChuck

I agree that she needs to cover up. The problem seems to be that you are in a very informal office with no clearly defined dress code. Aunt's solutions are certainly the best for a larger company (and definitely the best in a legal situation), but seem a bit harsh and formal for your particular situation. You have a General Manager above you, and certainly he/she should make policy decisions. You might be the one to actually speak to your colleague, but the policy should be set from the top--that's not your job. As for how to approach her, I might just pull her aside and be honest--"GM spoke to me about the fact that your clothing is getting tight and showing too much cleavage. Do you have something a bit looser and more modest that you can wear?" She might be short of money and stretching her wardrobe to the limit, something to keep in mind.
myra@classysassyweddings.com

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SarahSarah Posts : 93 Registered: 10/9/09
Re: Tricky situation at work. Advice needed.
Posted: Jun 25, 2010 4:00 PM Go to message in response to: myras

I have to disagree with a few things:

"One potential problem is that someone could consider sexually distracting clothing as contributing to a hostile work environment. It creates a sexually charged environment where none should exist."

Cleavage should never be blamed for creating a hostile or sexually charged enviroment. Thats essentially blaming the woman should a situation like that come up. If a male were to make a sexual based comment about her breasts, is that her fault? No. He would be the aggressor.


And I don't understand why it wouldn't be appropriate for a woman to wear a sleeveless shirt if her underarms weren't shaved? I know the idea of beauty nowadays is to be tall, thin, tanned, plucked, highlighted, Botoxed and shaved everywhere (and I mean everywhere!), but if an employer told me I wasn't allowed to wear sleeveless shirts because heaven forbid, I don't shave my underarms, I would consider that sexist and inappropriate.

Now, I do shave my armpits because I choose too, but some woman don't, for many reasons. Irritation for example.

I've been asked before at jobs to wear different shirts. I have an ample bosom, and both times I was wearing a v-neck with a cami underneath. Yet, I still had some cleavage. Not a ton, just some. I'm a woman, I have boobs. However, if she is just plain dressed sloppy and has a ton of cleavage hanging out, she needs to change.

She may not have the money to buy more clothes right now. Maternity clothes aren't cheap, and having to buy them frequently in less than a year can be tough. I would put a dress code in place, then talk to her about it - give her time to get some new clothes.

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ElleNChuck Posts : 50 Registered: 6/10/10
Re: Tricky situation at work. Advice needed.
Posted: Jun 25, 2010 5:30 PM Go to message in response to: ElleNChuck

So, I talked to Alice today. I told her that I have been asked to come up with a dress code for the accounting department and that we needed to started looking a little more professional. She actually was relieved! She said that she never knew exactly what she was supposed to be wearing, since every department does things a little bit differently. We also solved the clevage crisis. Our service manager has recently lost a good deal of weight so she gave Alice a few of her too-large polo shirts embroidered with the company logo to wear when answering the phones.

Now I need to do some googling to figure out how to write a dress code. :)

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myras Posts : 396 Registered: 2/26/10
Re: Tricky situation at work. Advice needed.
Posted: Jun 25, 2010 9:54 PM Go to message in response to: SarahSarah

Cleavage should never be blamed for creating a hostile or sexually charged enviroment.

Never? I think you need a bit of a reality check. Maybe a woman with an "ample bosom" has the "right" to have it all hang out, but let's not pretend that too-revealing clothing does not create a sexually charged environment. A man in too-tight jeans, a wife-beater shirt, or a shirt unbottoned down to his navel also is not appropriate for the workplace. Whether or not the environment is "sexually charged' is, I suppose, in the eyes of the beholder (frankly, armpit hair would make me nauseous, not horny). But there's no denying that it's distracting, and distracting is not good workplace attire.
myra@classysassyweddings.com

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PharmToxGirl Posts : 5,446 Registered: 8/30/07
Re: Tricky situation at work. Advice needed.
Posted: Jun 25, 2010 10:30 PM Go to message in response to: ElleNChuck

Elle- That's awesome. I understand where she's coming from too about what is or is not acceptable.

Sounds like it worked out extremely well! Congrats!

 

 

 

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PharmToxGirl Posts : 5,446 Registered: 8/30/07
Re: Tricky situation at work. Advice needed.
Posted: Jun 25, 2010 10:32 PM Go to message in response to: myras

Never? I think you need a bit of a reality check.

Myra - I couldn't agree more. I know woman who have dressed inappropriately because they didn't realize or know, as in this case, but I've also known women AND men who dress that way to create issues.

I'm sorry, if your boobs are hanging out and when you bend over I can see your thong EVERY SINGLE TIME, then yes, you are creating a bad environment.

 

 

 

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auntofthebride Posts : 9,354 Registered: 4/2/06
Re: Tricky situation at work. Advice needed.
Posted: Jun 26, 2010 10:39 AM Go to message in response to: ElleNChuck

Dear Elle,

"So, I talked to Alice today. I told her that I have been asked to come up with a dress code for the accounting department and that we needed to started looking a little more professional."

Excellent!!!

You did good, girlfriend!

Coming up with a dress code is not all that easy. Do some research and then moosh it around to best suit your needs.

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auntofthebride Posts : 9,354 Registered: 4/2/06
Re: Tricky situation at work. Advice needed.
Posted: Jun 26, 2010 11:01 AM Go to message in response to: SarahSarah

Dear Sarah,

"Cleavage should never be blamed for creating a hostile or sexually charged enviroment."

I agree with Myra, you need a reality check.

Sure, all women have boobs. Most women cover them, modestly, while at work. Some wear clothing to show as much as legally possible. That creates a distracting atmosphere, even if no male ever makes a single comment. The boss has the right to ask employees not to wear sexually revealing clothing to work. This applies to male and female employees. Remember, my company's dress code was prompted by a man wearing a sleeveless shirt to work. It was distracting.

"And I don't understand why it wouldn't be appropriate for a woman to wear a sleeveless shirt if her underarms weren't shaved?"

Because many people consider underarm hair to be unattractive. In our society, it is generally normal for women to shave underarm hair and men to not shave underarm hair. Thus, we require men to wear shirts with sleeves. A man with a sleeveless shirt in the workplace, even with shaved underarms, would be weird enough to be distracting.

Because it is culturally normal for women to shave underarm hair, we permit sleeveless shirts during the hot summer months on the condition the woman shave underarm hair.

If she doesn't want to shave underarm hair, which is her personal choice, she need not wear sleeveless tops to work. You want a special privledge? You fulfill a special condition. The bottom line is we don't want underarm hair, male nor female, visible at work.

There's nothing wrong with a dress code that differentiates between males and females, so long as there are no onerous burdens on the basis of sex. A man wearing a skirt would be sent home, for example. (We're not in Scotland, so even a male kilt would not be allowed unless the boss requested a bagpipe concert in the lobby.)


Clothing appropriate for our office makes you look like you are devoting your full attention to your job. Your clothes fit properly - not too tight and not too loose. Your clothing is modest and appropriate for your work. You are not using the workplace as a venue for attracting a mate. You are there to work, and not distract others from their work, nor offend the paying customer.

After all, in some jobs a dress code might include steel-toed shoes, for safety reasons, or a hard hat. Want the job? Want the paycheck? Wear the shoes and the hat.

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auntofthebride Posts : 9,354 Registered: 4/2/06
Re: Tricky situation at work. Advice needed.
Posted: Jun 26, 2010 2:01 PM Go to message in response to: SarahSarah

Dear Sarah,

"I know the idea of beauty nowadays is to be tall, thin, tanned, plucked, highlighted, Botoxed and shaved everywhere (and I mean everywhere!),"

In the workplace, we don't give a darn about body hair in places we cannot see when you wear appropriate business clothes.

In reading your message, I get the impression that you are still in school. Schools have dress codes and students push the dress code limits, mainly because so many students see learning as a secondary reason to attend school. Their primary reasons is to attract the opposite sex. Or same sex, in some cases.

Thus, girls wear skirts as short as possible, as much makeup as possible and show as much belly as possible. The guys wear pants as baggy as possible, showing as much underwear as possible and as many muscles as possible.

It's way different in the workplace. The boss hires you to work, not meet men. The dress code does not have to be fair, unless that fairness involves legally protected characteristics.

The boss can tell you to wear green socks on Thursday, for example, and be on solid grounds to fire you if you don't. Nothing "fair" about that, but it's legal.

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