Can The "I Know It When I See It" Test Be Applied to The Dress Code?

In 1964, Justice Potter Stewart tried to explain "hard-core" pornography, or what is obscene, by saying, "I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced...but I know it when I see it..."

Now, you're asking, what does porn have to do with my office?

Ever come across an employee that seems to dress just a little too sexy, or has a few too many holes on their face to be dealing with the customers, or is dressed for a day at the ballpark instead of the office park? You review your company dress code and discover that, technically, there are no rules being broken. You've added a general catch-all for "inappropriate attire" to your formal policy, but how do you define it? Return to Justice Stewart..."I know it when I see it."

One of your employees keeps walking back and forth to the copier in her form-fitting dress and spiked heels, causing raised eyebrows from some and lascivious leers from others. In the same department, another employee wears a similar outfit - yet with a different fit and figure, doesn't cause a stir. There is nothing in either case that would technically violate the dress code, item by item - and only one of the ladies is creating a distraction and making people feel uncomfortable. And there is nothing in your policy that specifically spells out what constitutes "inappropriate attire." Does "I know it when I see it" allow you to address the one employee?

Bigger question: can you or should you address only the one causing the stir; or does it create a fairness issue with regards to the other employee not being addressed?

1 comment:

Maurice M. Rosenberg, Human Resources Manager said...

"I know it when I see it" does allow you to address the one employee. Many times these matters are open to interpretation, but part of a manager/HR's job is to make a judgment call on issues that they feel are inappropriate, and address any 'concerns' in the workplace that fall outside of policy guidelines. To be completely diplomatic, this might also be the time to take the opportunity to reinforce the dress code to the entire company by sending out an e-mail so that no one individual feels targeted.


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