This is not a personal story. No one has ever accused me of being too hot. But a story has been making the news rounds that last day or so about a woman in New Jersey who is claiming that she was fired for “being too hot” for the workplace, even though the workplace was a lingerie warehouse. She has retained a celebrity attorney (notorious attorney?) to help her sue her former employer for gender and religious discrimination. If you have not seen the news stories and want to read about it you can read this Chicago Tribune article or this NY Daily Times article.
Here are several of the “facts” of the case:
- She was a new employee of less than a week
- She was not in sales or exposed to the public
- It was a female supervisor who first commented on her clothing
- She thought her clothing was appropriate for a lingerie company
- She interviewed in a mini-dress with side zippers
- She does have a large bust line
- She reports she was asked to alter her appearance in several ways to be less provocative.
- She was fired after that one week.
So what was the big mistake in this situation? LACK OF A DRESS CODE!
A company can set the standards for how people can dress for their workplace. Most of us are quite familiar with dress codes and the problems they cause, either by their absence or strictness. If the company had a dress code they should have made it clear to the new employee from the beginning. So mistake #1 for the company was not making it clear from the beginning what was acceptable and what was not.
Mistake #1 for the employee was assuming that just because the company sold lingerie that does not mean you can dress the part at work, perhaps on a sales floor, but not in a data entry job. Personally, the outfit she wore to her press conference was one she had worn to work and I would not have said it was appropriate for either. Good for an evening out but not for any workplace I have ever been at.
I know many a company that has a very, very casual dress code. However, even those companies draw the line at exposed underwear (both male and female), body parts hanging out where they shouldn’t be and excessive amounts of exposed skin. Mostly the standard is appropriate to the workplace, but “appropriate” needs to be defined. Clearly a bathing suit is appropriate for the beachside soda booth but not for the beachside bank.
I have had one social service client who has had some struggles with this, not only for their own employees, but with the “clients” they are trying to serve. One suggestion I gave them was rather than using a paragraph to explain the dress code they should use a picture book to explain it. They needed to have visual representations of what worked and what doesn’t. (Think Snooky, another NJ resident?)
I would like to have your take on dress codes. What has worked, what hasn’t? How might have this lingerie company handled this a bit better?
By the way, I have not quite figured out the religious discrimination part of this story. So if you have a clue there let me know.