Why Your Boss Can Require You to Wear Pantyhose

Your boss is always right.

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Suzanne Lucas
A reader writes: My place of work does not have a dress code;  instead each department manager can create his/her own dress code. The department I work in has a very strict dress code policy which I don't  mind following, except for the pantyhose. We are required to wear pantyhose everyday, regardless of what we are wearing. They are hot, uncomfortable, old-fashioned, and they can be kind of pricey after a while. It is frustrating to see the COO walking around in cute sandals and capris while I am stuck in a suit wearing hose.

My question: Is it even legal to force women to wear pantyhose? There does not seem to be a male equivalent. I am new and don't want to rock the boat, but this time next year I think I am going to have to say something. What do you think?

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I'm not a lawyer, nor do I play one on the Internet. However, I happened to be sitting next to my lawyer brother when I got this question. I read it to him and he actually snorted. “No male equivalent? What about ties? And suit coats? I have to wear a full suit to court when it's 110 degrees and the female lawyers are in sleeveless blouses!” Then he went into a rant about how the air conditioning in the courthouse he works in is controlled by people who live in a different climate. The end result of this is that he has no sympathy for you.

He, of course, has never worn pantyhose. I have, so I do have sympathy. I also disagree with the concept of no general dress code, except when I agree with it.

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Different departments have responsibilities that sometimes necessitates a different dress code. The IT people who are crawling on the floor to connect cables need a different dress code than the sales people who are meeting with clients, the scientists who are working with dangerous chemicals, the recruiters who are trying to sell the company to prospective employees, and the janitorial staff that scrape gum off the floor.

Now, regardless of what you do, I think it's ridiculous that you have to wear pantyhose while the COO is wearing capris and sandals. But, the reality is, even if that wasn't the official departmental dress code, if your boss is wearing pantyhose (or the male equivalent of a suit and tie) you should voluntarily wear pantyhose anyway.  Why? Because your boss is always right.

This does not mean that your boss is perfect. It means that if you want to make your boss happy the way to do that is to do what she asks of you. It also means that bosses tend to model behavior that they will reward. Would you rather be comfortable or would you rather get the developmental opportunities that will prepare you for a promotion?

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Now, for one minute, let's assume that it's absolutely illegal to require female employees to wear pantyhose. You file an official complaint with Human Resources. They research and then agree with you and come tell your boss that she is wrong, wrong, wrong and furthermore has been violating federal/state/local sexual discrimination statutes. Now what? Your fellow pantyhose wearers may think you're swell, but your boss (who still believes pantyhose are proper business attire for women) has been humiliated. She feels reprimanded and criticized and furthermore, it's all your fault. Now, I know that retaliation is illegal and you know that retaliation is illegal and your boss knows that retaliation is illegal but that doesn't mean that your relationship won't change, because it will. It will be even worse if your HR department doesn't back you up and you sue. Even with a win there will be a ton of resentment from the leadership of your company because you've cost them a fortune both in cash and public opinion.

So, here's my question for you: Do you want to be right or do you want to be successful in your career in this department? Because it's doubtful you can be both. There are some battles that are worth fighting. This is not one of them. It's annoying, but it's not that big a deal in the long run. I hate pantyhose. But, if wearing them is necessary for my career, I'll wear them. And I'll be glad I don't have to go to court in a suit and tie.

Suzanne Lucas has nine years of human resources experience, most of which have been in a Fortune 500-company setting. She holds a Professional in Human Resources certificate from the Society for Human Resource Management. She blogs at Evil HR Lady.