New Dress Code Draws Squawks
San Bernardino County's rules have some employees concerned. Tattoos, jewelry in facial piercings are out.
By Ashley Powers and Michelle Keller, Times Staff Writers
The ban on sweat pants and come-hither high heels triggered minor grumbling among some San Bernardino County employees, but the decision to bar Levis, tattoos, and jewelry in facial piercings raised a ruckus that spilled into the Board of Supervisors' chambers Tuesday.
In a 4-0 vote, the board approved a dress and grooming policy for the county's nearly 17,000 employees, affecting occupations as different as animal control officer and reference librarian.
The dress code, which appears to be the most sweeping of any county in Southern California, outlaws a closet's worth of items now considered unseemly work wear, including overalls, sports team gear and shirts that bare bellybuttons. Tattoos that can't be covered by clothing must be covered by other means. Pierced ears and earrings for both sexes are allowed.
County department heads have the discretion to make exceptions allowing landfill workers to wear jeans, for example but officials from the largest employees union said the restrictions went too far.
"What I most dislike about the dress code is that it's being imposed by a group of people that are parochial in their views on fashion; they're very conventional in style and want to impose that on everybody," said Stephen Rusher, a mental-health clinician at county-run Arrowhead Regional Medical Center in Colton and a union representative.
Board members backed the policy before the vote, though Chairman Bill Postmus admitted to fancying denim when in his district office. Supervisor Dennis Hansberger said tattoos offended him, but "I'm an old guy."
Leaders from the San Bernardino Public Employees Assn. said they had won assurances from administrators that enforcement would be flexible. Casual Fridays, for one, would not be a casualty, and employees sent home without pay for dress-code violations could appeal to the human resources department.
"I think it's ridiculous that anyone feels this would compromise their integrity or personal choice," said Mark Uffer, the county's top administrator. "We're not trying to be a fashion gestapo or anything."
Still, union general manager Bob Blough called the policy a "broad-brush approach" to hemming in a few employees whose outfits raise eyebrows.
"This sounds pretty severe to a person working in the trenches on a midsummer day," he said.
Neighboring counties, including Los Angeles, Orange, Ventura and San Diego, dictate dress by department. Riverside County's Department of Mental Health, for example, forbids sunglasses, T-shirts that could offend a "reasonable person" and "obvious bralessness."
Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca recently suggested that on-duty deputies shroud tattoos with long sleeves or bandages, a move that mirrored policies for the Los Angeles and San Diego police departments. It was met with some consternation from the rank and file, who countered that tattoos were no longer synonymous with shady characters.
Workplace experts found the breadth of San Bernardino County's dress code unusual, though not over the top. Younger workers, in particular, tend to blur the line between club and cubicle clothing, said Diana Saiki, an assistant professor of fashion merchandising at Indiana's Ball State University.
"People have lost the art of dressing," Saiki said. "This generation has been raised where it is more acceptable to abide to a casual dress code."
In San Bernardino County, the dress dictum is part of a broader effort by top administrator Uffer to improve customer service. Uffer unveiled a plan that includes employee-training sessions and "mystery shoppers" who would evaluate the responsiveness of county workers.
Wednesday, February 8, 2006
Some San Bernardino County employees question new dress code
People who work for San Bernardino County have a new dress code to follow and some call it the strictest in the state.
NewsChannel 3 talked to county workers in the High Desert today who say the new rules restrict freedom of expression.
17,000 people work for San Bernardino County, and now all of them will have to follow a strict new dress code. The dress code says no more jeans in the work place, and no overalls, sports team attire, tattoos, and facial piercing. But for people who work at Social Services in Yucca Valley, dressing down is part of the job.
When I first came to work here 5 years ago, I came in a dress and heels and they said youre over-dressed, and so that protocol has been really informal.
This woman says she wore pants to work for the first time today, but her co-workers opted to keep their jeans on, despite the new dress code.
I think there's more of a bigger principal involved here. we didn't really have a voice in it, it was set down, and I think there's probably going to be some backlash from various employees about that.
Home builder Larry Burge visits the county's building and safety office in Yucca Valley often, and says he's never seen anyone dressed inappropriately.
It's really interesting how freedom of expression would play into a county dress code and how you would enforce that.
Some wonder if the new dress code might bring about discrimination.
I have a tattoo, but its covered by a shirt. But again what are you going to do if someone comes as an applicant, an otherwise well qualified applicant, and he has tattoos down his arms?
At Social Services, they will still allow employees to dress down on casual Fridays.