Last fall, I ran across an article about banning flip-flops and exposed belly buttons for Kentucky employees. This described a broad policy for all Kentucky state employees, and a more specific set of guidelines for the Kentucky Labor Cabinet. It struck me as interesting because of various recommendations I have heard in the past for an Office of Judges of Compensation Courts dress code. I touched on this subject briefly last April in Aspire to Apply the Law Fairly, essentially recommending visitors to our offices be "dressed neatly."
The Kentucky guidelines state: "Personal appearance plays an important role in projecting a professional image within the Cabinet, to the citizens of the commonwealth who we serve, and to other public and private professionals with whom we associate." The document concedes that there will be various challenges in consistent compliance with any dress code and therefore also encourages "good judgment and common sense."
This order defines "business attire," "informal business attire," "business casual attire" and "non-business casual attire." And there are distinctions based on gender.
For men, "business attire" is essentially a suit or jacket and tie. For women, it means "dresses or suits with skirts or slacks with a blouse, dressy top, and/or jacket or dress sweater, and flats or dress shoes."
"Informal business attire" is as specific, essentially allowing one to be without a jacket and tie. And there is a specific list of inappropriate shoes: "athletic shoes, tennis shoes and hiking shoes are not permitted." The intent is that the clothing is "sufficiently formal" to "to meet with the public at a moment's notice."
"Business casual attire" is slightly more casual. This category allows polo shirts without a jacket, but maintains the prohibition on certain shoes. While it relaxes the categories of acceptable slacks, "jeans or denim pants of any length are not permitted."
Finally, "non-business casual attire" allows "jeans and athletic shoes, tennis shoes and hiking shoes."
The policy requires that administrative law judges (ALJ), commissioners and members of the Kentucky Workers' Compensation Board "shall dress in business attire, except that informal business attire may be worn on Fridays." ALJs are "expected to wear business attire at all court or hearing appearances or meetings with counsel." So, for judges, it is suits, sports-coats and dresses. There is "blue jean Friday" for ALJs.
Managers and supervisors are to dress in "informal business attire, except that business casual attire may be worn on Fridays." And the remainder of employees "shall dress in business casual attire in the office environment, except that non-business casual attire may be worn on Fridays." There is "blue jean Friday" for managers and supervisors.
The directive goes on to say that employees must be clean and "free from offensive body odor." They may not wear soiled clothing, exercise clothing, shorts, clothing that exposes the abdomen or chest area, clothing with commercial writing or graphics which are oversized; clothing with writing or graphics that could be considered offensive, vulgar, violent, sexual or insulting to a reasonable person; flip-flops; camouflage clothing; slippers; and hats or caps.
The policy calls upon supervisors to send employees home if the workers' choice of wardrobe does not comply.
The policy makes perfect sense, but it is amazing that pages are required for such an endeavor. Must employers really tell employees to be free of odor, not to wear vulgar or offensive (you know, like an FSU or UF or UMiami or Alabama shirt), and to leave the flip-flops for the pool?
As an aside, the policy carefully defines flip-flops as "flat, backless platform shoes with a strap between the first and second toe or strap(s) across the top of the foot and which typically produces an audible sound when the platform hits the bottom of the foot." I suspect that someone, at some point, professed confusion when confronted wearing such an audible shoe. Thus, a detailed definition of flip-flop was required.
But, would anyone think to modify a pair of these cheap platforms, to put the strap between the second and third toe? Such a modification might just avoid the definition and thus the prohibition on a particular "audible" shoe.
I suspect that there is discussion of attire in various Florida offices. I know there used to be. Florida has had judges famous (infamous?) for trial attire. One, years ago, had never been seen with socks. He consistently wore what we called "boat shoes" (or "docksiders"). There was a judge who consistently (every time you saw him) wore the same tie (some prognosticated that he had a closet full of identical ties; others thought he owned only one). Another consistently wore the same blue blazer (which on non-trial days hung conspicuously on the back of the office door).
There are probably those who notice that polo shirts are my normal attire around the office. I thus often fall into Kentucky's "business casual" category. But, you will not catch me at a public event or hearing without jacket and tie.
I favor the process exhibited by the Kentucky effort. It is important that there are both standards, and that employees are informed. The Division of Administrative Hearings has policy on dress standards. It makes no distinctions based on job category or position. It makes no distinctions based upon gender. It says:
"All personnel shall dress appropriately in business attire. Jeans and other casual dress will not be worn in the course of the normal work day in the office. Tank tops, bare midriffs, shorts, bare feet and revealing attire are not acceptable.
"This policy will not apply when employees are engaging in manual labor, such as boxing and moving files (pre-approved by supervisor); when employees are in the office briefly while on vacation or other leave; or on designated casual days (i.e., 'casual Friday' when employees may wear semi-casual clothes to work, such as jeans). Any other exceptions must be approved by the director and chief judge or the deputy chief judge."
I think that this is probably guidance enough. Perhaps the same policy is guidance enough for those who visit our facilities. Wear appropriate business attire, avoid jeans and revealing clothing like shorts and tank tops. If your appearance is professional and clean, it will demonstrate respect for the process, your clients and the people (employees and employers) it is meant to serve.
And, please leave your audible shoes at home, regardless of which toes the strap is between.
David Langham is deputy chief judge of the Florida Office of Judges of Compensation Claims. This column was reprinted, with his permission, from his Florida Workers' Comp Adjudication blog.
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