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When I started working for my current company, they permitted a dress code consisting of either jeans or khakis and a polo shirt. About a year ago, something unrelated happened in which the CEO was pissed off and he decided to punish everyone for the actions of the few. An e-mail was sent out stating that the dress code for everyone would be shirt and tie.

I have been abiding by this dress code for about a year and have hated every minute of it. As an engineer who does not interact with any external customers or visitors that would warrant such a dress code, it does not make any sense to me. Furthermore, I easily get dust/crap on my fancy clothes with the work that I do and throwing stuff in the washing machine is much easier than dry cleaning.

I was recently looking through our employee manual and discovered that it is apparently up to my manager's discretion as far as how I dress in the workplace. I am planning to send him an e-mail requesting permission to return to the former dress code which was much more comfortable.

I am looking for help in how to phrase this request appropriately to my manager.

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    Failing that, order lab coats for everyone who's likely to get dusty. Drive the cost up a bit by having names and the company logo embroidered on them. – Blrfl Apr 10 '13 at 14:52
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    @Blrfl - Lab coats are a nice idea, but we're talking about an office where we have to bring in our own pens and highlighters... – THE DOCTOR Apr 10 '13 at 14:57
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    @THEDOCTOR: If you have to bring in your own office supplies, your company has bigger problems than the dress code. This might be your cue to consider going elsewhere. – Blrfl Apr 10 '13 at 16:13
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    @THEDOCTOR: just show up in your birthday suit. – Greg McNulty Apr 10 '13 at 18:39
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    @'THE DOCTOR' it's time to get in the TARDIS and find a new adventure. Who needs to put up with the CEO's power trip? You could show up in a tuxedo everyday. Or a suit from the 70s. I think a purple velvet suit with a frilly shirt would also work. If you can't get them to change the dress code, then have fun with it and wear ugly ties, or more than one tie at a time. Consider wearing a bib with a lobster on it. – Xenson Apr 12 '13 at 15:58
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I'd probably suggest a mix of sending an e-mail asking to discuss a change in the dress code rather than explicitly stating the change in that format. In the follow-up meeting presuming there is one, that is where you'd mention that you believe the former dress code would be better for you and give reasons for wanting this other than personal convenience. Make sure you have plans if the CEO happens to be near your area as this could be an issue if it isn't covered.

Thus, you could say, "I have some concerns about following the dress code and would like to discuss this with you privately," or something similar where the point is to note that the dress code is the topic, you want this done privately and avoid getting too specific.


To get it in writing, I'd probably consider the idea of an e-mail after the in-person discussion as not everyone will want to openly discuss everything in a form that is electronically tracked. Thus, it may be useful to send an e-mail, have a meeting where some ideas may be discussed but not written out as they were used to lead the discussion towards a conclusion and then either send or have sent an e-mail stating the agreed upon conclusions from the meeting. While you could quote the section in the handbook, I'd consider what kind of relationship you have with your manager as this could be seen as trying to correct someone that may not go over well. In some cases this is useful as a starting point and in other cases it is possibly seen as childish.

"Look, I can do this! It says so right here if you let me!" would be how I could see this being taken in a negative light.

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    I wanted to handle this through e-mail. At least initially, so that I have something in writing. I started a draft of the e-mail in which I quote and reference the exact section in the Employee Handbook which states that the dress code is at the manager's discretion. The CEO is literally never near my area. Additionally, I'm usually in a locked lab where its just me and 1 other guy that I work with. – THE DOCTOR Apr 10 '13 at 15:13
  • @THEDOCTOR - But someone who is near the CEO does come near you and is likely to see that you are not required to follow the shirt and tie dress code so they would like an exemption too. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Apr 10 '13 at 18:31
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    @JB King - I took your advice and discussed it with my boss. He told me he would check with HR to get clarification. He also asked that I send him in e-mail the section in question. Whether or not HR even responds is another story. At the risk of sounding cynical, I'm wondering if the employee manual will soon be updated to state explicitly that shirt and tie are required with no exceptions. – THE DOCTOR Apr 15 '13 at 14:07
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This depends on your relationship with your manager. I've had some managers where I would have run into their office on day one and asked if his department had to put up with this stupid rule. With others, I would send an email and explain my circumstances if he wasn't aware of them already (Which a good manager should). You've probably had enough correspondence to know how to be respectful and professional.

If you get a response that it is out of your manager's control, you can then mention the discressionry provision. It's difficult to determine how far you can push this issue. Some managers just don't stand up for their team members as much as others.

Ultimately, you need to change into something appropriate to wear in your lab to prevent ruining your good clothes or get another job.

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At one company I worked the powers-that-be upped the dress code for an engineering building. Everyone simply chose to ignore it. So the company had the choice between a massive disciplinary action (it was a big building) or letting it slide. A few weeks later they revoked the dress code.

There may be strength in numbers. If you can show that this hurts morale and/or productivity for a sizable part of the employees you have a good chance of getting someone's attention. Once you have this, you need to make a specific and actionable proposal. Ideally that would address your discomfort and address the concerns of the CEO. Example: different dress codes for roles, level of interaction with the outside world, parts of the building, etc.

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I am looking for help in how to phrase this request appropriately to my manager.

Just send an informal email, requesting permission.

Make it non-confrontational and fact-based. Make it clear what you want your manager to do. Acknowledge that this is contrary to the CEO's email, but state your reasons for why you think your request is appropriate.

Just be cognizant of the fact that, in spite of what the employee manual says your manager could do, your manager is in a difficult position. You may get what you are wishing for, but you may not.

(BTW, most dress codes are silly, subjective, and outmoded. Yet such is the life of many/most businesses.)

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