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Dear Workforce What if HR Isn't Dressing Appropriately?

Address the problem but don't put yourself on thin legal ice.
May 28, 2000
Related Topics: Policies and Procedures, Dear Workforce
Dear Workforce:
We are in a public sector environment where there is a fairly relaxed atmosphere regarding dress. While managers often wear suits, it is also common to see them dressed down.
The directors would like the HR manager to 'transform' her appearance. Most of her clothes are dated and simplistic. They are concerned that she may not be taken seriously. How they can insist one individual change the way she currently is dressing?
-- HR's Dress

A Dear HR's Dress:

I'm a little scared to get too far into this one, as I'm not a lawyer and don't want to give legal advice.
Having said that, I can say you ought to tread carefully.
If you're going to her and asking her to transform her image, you may have a problem. If you're going to her and saying, let's transform everyone's image, then that may be easier.
Now, I'm guessing you're thinking, "But she's the only one dressing this way. She's the only one who needs to transform."
If that's the case, you'll probably want to have something specific that's evidence of her inappropriate dress. Her clothes may be "dated" but what if several other managers wear dated clothes, but you're not addressing this with them? What if all those other managers are men -- could you be setting yourself up for a legal headache?
My guess, from the tone of your notes, is that there must be another reason the directors are bothered by her performance -- beyond her appearance -- or the appearance would probably be less of an issue. The problems with her clothing are merely a manifestation of a larger problem. If that's the case, can you address those problems?
Finally, you may want to see what other folks think -- post this question in the General Forum or the Staffing Forum at
SOURCE: Todd Raphael, Online Editor for Workforce, April 17, 2000.
E-mail your Dear Workforce questions to Online Editor Todd Raphael at, along with your name, title, organization and location. Unless you state otherwise, your identifying info may be used on and in Workforce magazine. We can't guarantee we'll be able to answer every question.

 The information contained in this article is intended to provide useful information on the topic covered, but should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion. Also remember that state laws may differ from the federal law.

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