WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Department of Labor announced today that it’s opened an investigation into workplace irregularities which could cause some major changes in corporate America.
At the center of the investigation is the question on whether an individual working in an office where the dress code is business oriented can maintain a professional attitude while wearing denim at work.
For years, denim has carried a stigma which invites a more casual demeanor in the office. As members of Generation X begin to climb the corporate ladder, trends have been identified in the last decade which point to more relaxed dress codes in the office. Whereas their Baby Boomer parents had to wear more professional attire such as a coat and tie or a dress, today’s thirty and forty somethings find themselves wearing nothing more than professional casual attire on Monday through Thursday, and then denim on Friday. Although denim is allowed on Friday, dress shoes and appropriate tops are still required.
Fridays don’t seem to be the only day to wear denim anymore. Companies nationwide are finding a tradeoff in order to allow their employees wear denim. They run campaigns to literally sell days in which an employee can wear denim. The tradeoff is that the proceeds from the purchased denim day is given to a local charity.
As much as the advent of more denim days in the office signals a sign of the times, there are those who feel that denim is non-conducive to a professional attitude. Taking a line from Billy Crystal’s portrayal of Fernando Llamas, “You’ve got to look good to feel good.” In the same sense, employers and their human resource departments are taking the stand that you have to look professional to be professional.
Thus, the investigation by the Department of Labor.
In the last month alone, reports from 15 different states have overloaded the switchboards at the DOL in Washington, D.C. reporting instances of employees wearing denim on a regular business day have maintained the highest level of professionalism coupled with the utmost of respect for both internal and external clients. In some of those cases, it was reported the denim wearing employee was also sporting running shoes.
The premise that attire doesn’t always affect the quality of work is a threatening one for corporate America. As long as there has been business to do, the established mindset is for those in the business world to dress the part. If the DOL investigation finds that a paradigm shift has taken place and that professional attire is no longer necessary in the business world, changes could be on order.
The first set of changes would come through the issuance of dress code guidelines for business by the DOL. Corporate America for the most part could adhere to the guidelines under threat of potential fines or Congressional hearings. There would also be an expected percentage of companies who would resist the DOL and continue to enforce a no-denim policy among their staff.
These companies would subsequently be demonized in the media by denim advocates, Congress and possibly by the White House. Legislation could be signed into law mandating that businesses provide a variety of dress code options to their employees. Businesses would also be required to provide clothing vouchers to their employees in order to help defer the individual cost of buying a wardrobe consistent with the DOL mandate.
In the end, it will be a Supreme Court decision or a change in Congress or the White House which will ultimately decide whether the government has the right to dictate dress codes to Corporate America.