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Am I Getting Discriminated Against At Work?

Am I Getting Discriminated Against At Work?

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Dear J.T. & Dale: I’m new to my company. It’s a very (I mean VERY) casual work environment. There is no dress code – or so I was told. The other day I wore a jean skirt with a large blouse. I thought I looked hip and relaxed. The next day, the HR person came to me and said: “Please don’t wear a skirt like that again. It crossed the line.”

I said “OK,” but in my head I thought, “What line?!” I’ve seen people come into this office with jeans so full of holes you could tell what color underwear they were wearing. I’m considered to be pretty cute and have nice legs. So, all I can think of is that I’m being discriminated against at work for my beauty. Advice? – Melissa

DALE: All over the country, HR professionals are longing for the first cold snap of the year, eager to see everyone back in baggy corduroy trousers and bulky knit sweaters, thereby minimizing the time devoted to the job of playing fashion police.

J.T.: I’m sure that’s true. Meanwhile, because your company has no written dress code, they can create it as they go – however, that said, they then must enforce it for everyone. As for proving discrimination, you’d have to be able to validate that some other female wore the exact same skirt and wasn’t told not to wear it again.

DALE: I hope Melissa wasn’t concerned about discrimination in the legal sense, but more in the social sense, trying to figure out how to know what will and won’t be acceptable. Attractiveness may play a role. It isn’t just beauty that’s in the eye of the beholder, but provocativeness. Some co-workers may have found you so appealing that it distracted them from their work, while others may have been jealous of the distraction you caused.

On the other side, I can see where unattractive people might have more leeway. We’ve all seen people, both men and women, wearing something that reveals flesh nobody wants to see, and you literally can’t look, thus creating an invisibility cloak. So, yes, a homely employee could get away with something you could not.

J.T.: Just remember that being cursed with beauty has more positives than negatives.

DALE: One economist puts being attractive as worth nearly $250,000 during the course of a career.

J.T.: So let go of any feelings of being discriminated against, and choose conservative attire ’til you have a better sense of how the unwritten dress code functions.

Feel free to send questions to J.T. and Dale via e-mail at [email protected] or write to them in care of King Features Syndicate, 300 W. 57th Street, 15th Floor, New York, NY 10019.

© 2012 by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

Dress code discriminated image from Shutterstock

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J.T. & Dale “JT & Dale Talk Jobs” is the largest nationally syndicated career advice column in the country. J.T. O’Donnell and Dale Dauten are both professional development experts.