Monday, December 20, 2010

Whatever happened to casual days at work?

By Eve Tahmincioglu

Last week, a 43-page dress and grooming code at Swiss bank UBS was leaked to the media, and the rules included everything from touching up hair dye jobs to the quality of an employee’s underwear.

While there was outrage over the draconian nature of the guidelines, such appearance mandates are becoming more prevalent in the workplace.

Restrictions on the way workers dress and groom themselves have long been a contentious issue in the nation’s workplaces, but in most cases such guidelines have been found to be legal. And the rules governing employee appearance are only getting tougher thanks to the weaker economy.

“Dress codes are tightening up,” said Dick Lerner, author of “Dress Like The Big Fish.” “The takeaway from this recession is the reality most firms are doing more with less. For survival, there has been a lot of belt-tightening and companies look at every aspect of their business, and that includes who will keep their job and who won’t,” he said.

As a result, Lerner added, “Sloppy dress in the workplace is gone. Businesses can’t afford sloppy dress, sloppy work, sloppy attitude.”

Indeed, some firms are ratcheting up the fashion police.

UBS got a lot of negative publicity when its 43-page dress-and-grooming edict got out. The over-the-top rules included restrictions on the length of male employees’ nails; when female employees are supposed to put on perfume and how much; and they even mandated the color of worker underwear and said the undergarments should be “of superior quality textiles,” according to a report in the Christian Science Monitor last week. (UBS officials declined to comment for this column.)

Lindsey Sparks’ last job with a staffing firm in Oklahoma City had a restrictive dress code policy that required female employees to wear skirt suits and pantyhose at all times, even if they worked on weekends. And there was even a manager at the company that chastised workers for not wearing lipstick.

“Their dress code was so sexist I’m not sure why I put up with it as long as I did,” said Sparks, who left Express Employment Professionals in June after eight years with the company.

“Although I left the company amicably,” Sparks said. “I’m still appalled by the dress code.”