Rebellion in the Ranks! Dealing with Uniform Protests
Every once in a while, conditions for workers get so bad that they have to go on strike. Employees usually protest poor working conditions or low wages -- it's rare that you find employees who take a stand against the company uniform. But that's exactly what happened in northern Stockholm, Sweden. Male train workers have taken to wearing skirts on the job to protest the company's uniform policy, which bans shorts in summer. Skirts, however, are perfectly acceptable under the company's dress code. Martin Akersten, a Swedish train worker, explained, "We have always said that when summer comes, we will get some skirts and wear them. It's very warm weather here so we would like to wear shorts but if we can't then we have skirts for comfort." He added, "It can be over 35 degrees Celsius [95 degrees Fahrenheit] in the train cab on hot summer days." Image source: Thenewstrack.com
Arriva, the company that employs the train workers, has kind of painted itself into a corner. Banning men from wearing skirts would almost certainly earn them a discrimination lawsuit. A company spokesman stated that Arriva was fine with the unconventional protest. "Our thinking is that one should look decent and proper when representing Arriva and the present uniforms do that," the spokesman said. "If the man only wants [to wear] a skirt then that is OK." As a business owner, you should be careful about how you manage the company uniform policy. I'm not saying that a bad policy will make all of your male employees show up to work in drag or anything (though that's possible) -- I'm saying that an overly strict policy could lead to a rebellion in the ranks. The easiest way to prevent employee dissent is to ask for their input regarding company uniforms. They'll be quick to point out whether or not a uniform is too itchy, hot, or revealing. They might even help you come up with good uniform guidelines that you wouldn't have come up with on your own. At the very least, they'll appreciate that you were willing to consider their opinions.
Image source: Bbc.co.uk
If you do get a lot of complaints about your dress code policy, then you might want to consider making a few changes. Your employees wouldn't protest a dress code unless they had a good reason to complain, so listen to their input and respond compassionately. The Swedish train story brings up a good point: ignoring employee complaints and forcing strict dress code coherence could land you in legal hot water. Employees have rights. You can require certain dress codes, but using company uniforms as a way to discriminate against an employee's gender, sexuality, or religious beliefs could be grounds for a law suit.