When enforcing standards of attire, make sure to be consistent and not pick on anyone. A supervisor in an Army medical clinic in Puerto Rico no doubt wishes he’d done that.

The supervisor had a bee in his bonnet about the attire of a female employee. (At first they were co-workers, but he was later promoted.) He claimed that her clothing was too revealing, and specifically that her skirts showed her underwear.

Didn’t have a dress code
According to the employee, the supervisor went so far as to bring co-workers to her desk to comment on her supposedly inappropriate clothing. She said he told co-workers she dressed “like a woman of the streets.”

At one point, the supervisor formally counseled the employee over her clothing, but she replied that there was no office dress code and that she felt she dressed professionally.

A few months later, he sent her a memo reading: “On occasion the way you have dress(ed) has made me and co-workers very uncomfortable … In the workplace you… are required to stand, bend, reach above for documents and you need to be fully aware (of) clothing that reveals underwear.”

Fed up and frazzled, the employee sued for hostile work environment. And a federal appeals court said her case was strong enough to go to trial.

Lesson of the case: If you feel the way an employee dresses is inappropriate, refer to your organization’s dress code. If there isn’t a dress code, ask HR to come up with one. Don’t wing it according to your own tastes or personal standards.

Cite: Rosario v. Department of the Army, No. 08-2168, 1st Cir., 6/2/10.

4 Comments

  • Jeff Seidman says:

    Interesting. Why didn’t the supervisor go to his boss and tell his that he was uncomfortable with her dress and he asked her to “tone it down” and she refused. He would have been able to assert a sexual harassment claim against her.

  • Jeff Seidman says:

    Interesting. Why didn’t the supervisor go to his boss and tell his that he was uncomfortable with her dress and he asked her to “tone it down” and she refused. He would have been able to assert a sexual harassment claim against her.

  • mamajana says:

    This is so true! I had a similar case where a boss felt his secretary dressed too provacatively and would show her pictures in a fashion magazine of how he wanted her to dress. Fortunately, I was able to intervene before she filed a formal complaint.

  • mamajana says:

    This is so true! I had a similar case where a boss felt his secretary dressed too provacatively and would show her pictures in a fashion magazine of how he wanted her to dress. Fortunately, I was able to intervene before she filed a formal complaint.

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