Dress Coding For Success
Commentary by Laurie Cozart CPC, Executive Coach, Beyond Point B
With employee dress codes becoming less stringent in order to accommodate personal preferences, do companies risk tarnishing their image, alienating customers and potentially
seeing a decrease in sales?
In the past, it was common to see “No pierced body parts, except ears, may be exposed” in a company-initiated dress code statement.
Today, many younger potential hires and employees have opted for facial piercings and tattoos. It has become the norm in some circles.
As a district manager back in the day, I vividly remember potential employees refusing job offers because it meant removing facial piercings or covering tattoos. Then came low
slung jeans and belly piercings. So, to keep up with hiring needs, some retailers and other companies modified their dress code and reduced restrictions even further.
Companies started to notice the effect this was having on their image. Complaints started coming in; older shoppers were turned off. Could it be that sales started to drop as
Many companies have started to re-evaluate their dress code policies. Take Costco’s recent court case, for example. In 2001, it opted for a more professional image. As reported
in Workforce Week Management by Alison Stein Wellner, “(For Costco) the business interest was in presenting a neat, clean professional appearance.” Then a court battle
began with a long-term employee (4 years), Kimberly Cloutier, refusing to adhere to the new policy, citing religious beliefs. Ms. Cloutier claimed to be a member of The Church
of Body Modification, established in 1999.
After 4 years of litigation, the court ruled in Costco’s favor. “The court decided that if it forced Costco to create an exception for Cloutier’s eyebrow ring and other piercings,
it would create an undue hardship on the company.”
The court’s decision found: “For better or for worse, employees reflect on employers. This is particularly true of employees who regularly interact with customers. … Even if
Cloutier did not regularly receive any complaints about her appearance, her facial jewelry influenced Costco’s public image and, in Costco’s calculation, detracted from its professionalism.
… Costco has made a determination that facial piercings, aside from earrings, detract from the ‘neat, clean, and professional image’ that it aims to cultivate. Such a business
determination is within its discretion.”
Moderator’s Comment: Do you agree with the court ruling in the Costco case that determining what constitutes a professional image is for the employer
to decide? In light of today’s fashion and religious observances, are companies that ban various types of piercings, tattoos and clothing in danger of losing the recruiting game?
Laurie Cozart – Moderator