State Pulls Back on Dress Code After Protests
The state Department of Health and Human Services has backpedaled on a dress code memo sent recently to field workers.
Moore County caseworker C.J. Sayre said she and her co-workers were "floored" when they received the memorandum earlier this month telling them to "dress up" for work.
"Personal appearance and hygiene play an important role in projecting a professional image in the community and to DHHS customers," the memo reads. "Employees' appearance should reflect what is appropriate for the job, work setting and personal safety. Daily grooming and bathing are required. Clothing should be clean, pressed and in good condition."
Sayre called the memo "downright ridiculous."
"As early intervention coordinators for the health department, we go into clients' houses and encounter a variety of conditions," she said. "As professionals, we are the best qualified to know how to dress when visiting these homes."
The memorandum, issued Feb. 4, was sent out by the office of state Health and Human Resources director Kathy Gruer, who was unavailable for comment. Another agency employee said that the memorandum was released "without approval" from department officials.
"The dress code has been rescinded," said a department spokesperson who refused to give her name. "At this time there is no new dress code policy."
"We are waiting for another one, but I have no idea when that will be issued," he said.
Sayre listed a number of situations that required "dressing down" rather than what state bureaucrats originally mandated.
"Appropriate attire, as stated in the letter, included blazers, suits or sport coats with ties and dress shoes for men, and skirts, business suits or dresses and dress shoes for women," Sayre said. "But I am not about to wear dress clothing when visiting a home.
"In some situations, not all by any means, we encounter a variety of challenging environments. These may include large dogs that attempt to bite and rip our pants legs, aggressive children that grab at our clothes and possessions, urine-soaked furniture and floors, fleas, roaches and overall general filth.
"Some homes are excessively hot, to the point where sweat runs down our necks and backs."
Sayre said that she and her fellow employees dress according to the situation they expect to face.
"We serve children with disabilities from birth to age 3, and are the 'first on the scene' to represent the Children's Developmental Services Agency when visiting the family in their natural environment. We wear jeans, tennis shoes, and even scrubs when necessary."
Sayre said there was often the need to "mirror" the clothing worn by a family in order to put the family more at ease.
"To go into both familiar and unfamiliar home environments dressed 'appropriate for the job,' as the memo says, is totally absurd and may even put our CDSA employees' health and safety at risk," Sayer said.
But even as Sayre and her colleagues fumed, Raleigh was putting on the brakes.
Sayre called that decision "wonderful news."
"It is unfortunate that a dress code is needed at all for professionals," Sayre said. "I applaud some of the 'what not to wear' items that are listed, such as exposed undergarments and offensive graphics. However, the 'consequences for violations' that are threatened in the memo when protecting one's own safety, health and welfare on a job are not warranted."
The original memo stated that violators would be told to leave the workplace and then return wearing appropriate dress.
The time away would have been applied to the employee's vacation leave, followed by verbal and written warnings prior to termination.
Sayre said she won't hesitate to seek out state Rep. Jamie Boles, Moore County's representative, if the dress code guidelines come back at a later date.
Contact John Lentz at (910) 693-2479 or jlentz@ thepilot.com.
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