A ton of us are drinking coffee. I literally have a paper cup full of “life juice” next to my keyboard as I write this post. Coffee is not the reason I get out bed, but it is certainly a large contributor to me not staying out for the rest of the day. And, consistent with our nation’s founding principles, Americans have the right to choose where to purchase their preferred stimulant.
Those who choose Starbucks may have a more colorful experience on their next fuel up thanks to a new dress code announced by the Seattle-based company last week for employees in the U.S. and Canada. (Though our northern neighbors still prefer Tim Horton’s to Starbucks.) The change comes after an online petition seeking changes to the dress code garnered a reported 14,500 signatures. According to the Seattle Times, the new rules allow Starbucks employees to sport “unnatural” hair colors, so long as the hair colors are permanent or semi-permanent. No temporary dyes or sprays, glitters or chalks are permitted under the rule change. This means the person who regularly misspells your name on your mocha-frappa-whatever may now do so with pink and purple head sprouts, so long as he/she isn’t shaking a little something extra into your cup with each head turn.
The rules relaxation doesn’t stop there; employees may also sport something behind that well-recognized green apron other than the plain white or black shirt and khakis we’ve all come to expect. Starbucks’ new lookbook invites your friendly perk pushers to “wear a range of subdued shirt colors beyond black and white, including gray, navy, dark denim and brown.” But, the Company warns, “solids are your friend, and so are smaller, tighter, low-contrast patterns.” I agree. The last thing you want to see before you’ve brought the world into focus is a dizzying array of lines and patterns.
But what about changes to your own dress code? Employers often seek to bring balance to the workplace or to project a particular image through their employee’s daily garb. As a popular fashion retailer found out last year, failing to know when to be flexible with these requirements can be costly. However, issue of safety or quality, as with Starbucks’ prohibition of temporary dyes, sprays, or glitters, can provide legitimate support for particular requirements. Employers should also be weary of promulgating different requirements for men and women. While such differentiation is not illegal by itself, requirements that deny equal employment opportunities or place a greater burden on one sex over the other can be troublesome. Employers should also remain consistent in their application of these policies. Failure to equally enforce even the slightest requirements can raise animosity in and amongst the workforce, leading to other negative issues. Along those same lines, employers should have a plan in place for dealing with employees who object to complying with the policy. Dress code policies (and any changes) should be clearly communicated to all employees to prevent employees from later claiming they weren’t aware of the requirements if they are found in violation. Employers should also take seriously any requests to alter the requirements by an employee claiming to need relief based on religious beliefs or due to a disability. While the requested change may not ultimately be necessary, failing to properly address the employee’s request can, in certain circumstances, give rise to a valid claim.