Another Example of Why HR Never Wins the Dress Code Game

You probably saw this last week when the Internet got all hot and bothered when a 17 year-old girl who worked at JC Penney got sent home for a dress code violation.

She tweeted out a picture of herself dressed in JC Penney bought “career” apparel that she was wearing at the time (see pic below left). The only place where I see this being dressed appropriate for work is probably Hooters, but you know me — I’m super ultra conservative, right-winged nut job, so what the hell do I know?

JC-Penny-430x679Many were angry over what they saw as a double standard, although I’m not sure what that double standard is. I would have been more upset over a 17 year-old boy wearing this outfit to work! I would have sent both home, so there goes your double standard.

The real issue here is that JC Penney labeled this outfit “career apparel” to the customers but didn’t find it career appropriate for their own associate. If JC Penney is labeling this outfit on their shelves appropriate work wear, why is it inappropriate work wear for their own employees?

4 reasons this dress wasn’t “career appropriate”

Well, I have some reasons:

  1. It’s tight and revealing for the average customer of JC Penney. The average age of a JC Penney shopper is 103 years old. The last thing an old person wants to see is a Fourth of July wannabe stripper. That’s knowing your customer base. I’m sure if she was working at Hot Topic she wouldn’t have been sent home.
  2. There a difference between marketing and operations. Just because marketing is calling something “career appropriate” doesn’t mean your HR and Operations folks will feel the same way. Welcome to the reality of working in a corporation. People aren’t always on the same page, and that is a bad thing.
  3. Seventeen year-olds have no ability to understand the broader picture of the corporate politics at play here. It’s too bad someone couldn’t have better coached this young lady on how to handle this situation to have a better impact for herself and fellow employees. Going nuclear wasn’t the best option for her.
  4. HR never wins when it comes to dress code policy because of these kinds of issues.

Who should “own” the dress code?

HR should give up the dress code policy whenever it’s an option, and let your operations team own it.

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They know their customer base. They know their work environment. They know their employees. Let them build a dress code that works for them, and trust they’ll do what’s right for the organization.

I’ve done this three times in my career, and all three times it worked out wonderfully, and, I didn’t ever have to deal with the dress code ever again!

This was originally published on Tim Sackett’s blog, The Tim Sackett Project.

Tim Sackett, MS, SPHR is executive vice president of HRU Technical Resources, a contingent staffing firm in Lansing, MI. Tim has 20 years of HR and talent background split evenly between corporate HR gigs among the Fortune 500 and the HR vendor community ? so he gets it from both sides of the desk. A frequent contributor to the talent blog Fistful of Talent, Tim also speaks at many HR conferences and events. Contact him here.

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