When I wrote Magnus’ policies and procedures manual in 1994, prior to hiring any employees, I put a lot of thought into all of it, including the part pertaining to our dress code. Prior to co-owning Magnus, I had worked for a variety of employers, all of whom had strict dress codes, including a few that required formal business attire (a suit) at all times, on all work days. One of my employers was a hospital that required all employees to wear leg covering (socks or stockings), including those of us who worked in the corporate office, as opposed to in patient care. Another employer required shoes to be new or shined; anyone with scuffed shoes was sent home for the day, without pay. I decided that, instead of having these strict rules dictating employees’ appearance, Magnus would be a workplace in which the dress code varied according to the tasks being performed on any given day. When our employees are in the presence of clients, business suits are required, but, at other times, business casual attire would be permitted, while at still other times, casual attire would suffice. In fact, when we are working in our office, “behind the scenes,” while performing work on behalf of clients who cannot see us, we usually wear casual attire. The problem with allowing employees to dress in casual attire is, of course, due to individual interpretations of this dress code. In addition, as fashions change over the years, the dress code has to be modified to take into account new prohibitions within the code. The first major modification to Magnus’ dress code was necessary when it became fashionable for both men and women to display their underwear in public. The public display of underwear includes men’s underpants being pulled up higher than their pants (alternatively, pulling down their pants so low it exposes their underpants); women displaying their thong underpants above their pants (most often, while bending over: ICK!); and women displaying their brassiere straps and cups outside their blouses. Call me “old school,” but I NEVER want to see my employees’ underwear! Never, ever! Not only have David and I had to counsel employees who displayed their underwear at work; we have also had to deal with the complaints of other employees who were offended by their co-worker’s inappropriate attire. (We also chose not to hire someone whose skirt was so short that, when she sat down, her underpants were prominently featured. We were actually relieved she was wearing them; it is never good to “go commando” to a job interview!) To the employee who displays his/her underwear at work I will say, please work for someone other than me!
Talk about some awkward conversations. Because my role in this partnership is the business side, that includes human resources. When these new challenges “revealed” themselves (pun intended) it fell to me to “handle.” The easy part was to add a few lines to the employee manual prohibiting “visible underwear,” and the best way I could figure out to address the dress code issue was to then meet in private with the offender and show her the new policy. (I’m remembering the situation with the thong underpants.) It was an embarrassing moment for the employee but, the conversation and the policy solved the problem. (And, even today she knows who we’re talking about, but we still love her anyway.) I’m sure that in some environments, still today, such wardrobe “malfunctions” would not seem problematic. But, without “going there” in this discussion, I will say that the problem is about more than an individual’s reduced inhibitions or willingness to show some skin (or underwear), it is about propriety in the workplace, professionalism, and about not creating discomfort for other employees. The shocking part to us was that we had to have such conversations.