Should employees be forced to wear nylons in the workplace? There are a couple of women in our office who claim that nylons are uncomfortable to wear, some claim that nylons give them a rash. They are starting a petition so that they won't be forced to wear nylons any longer. I'm not sure what to do about this - I would really appreciate your advice.

Even today, bare legs are not considered professional in most business environments. The creative industries are sometimes the exception, such as the beauty, fashion, art, theater, and advertising industries.

It is legal for an employer to set professional dress guidelines for employees, including requiring hosiery. Enforcement of guidelines must be made uniformly or the company is open to discrimination suits. You can’t allow one woman (or a few women) not to wear hosiery because she whines that they are uncomfortable and then continue to make the other women wear them.

Reasonable allowances can only be made for those with religious, cultural, or disability issues and those must be addressed in writing with senior management. In most of those cases, written proof of the specific issue is required. For example, the “rash” scenario that you describe above would have to be documented and the cause verified (in writing) by a board-certified doctor. Many things can cause rashes, such as stress, soaps, lotions, shaving creams, razors, hair-removal products, tanning equipment or sunshine, etc. AA many products or items that women use. I’m not saying that’s its not possible, only that the hosiery rationale could be challenging to prove and a reputable doctor may be reluctant to write such a letter.

It is not uncommon for the Spring/Summer season to engender a hosiery rebellion. With this, it’s prudent for a company to issue seasonal updates or guidelines that address the hosiery issue in particular. As far as the women in your office, your office is air conditioned, isn’t it? I have found that frequency of wear makes hosiery far more comfortable, just as ties are for men when they’re accustomed to wearing them.

The objections that you are getting may also have to do with fashion. Yes, it has been fashionable to not wear hosiery, but that’s more of a social/leisure look for women, not professional attire. You may want to suggest that they wear skin-toned hosiery to meet the company dress code standards and to appear fashionable and professional. However, hosiery is making a big fashion comeback and is now in vogue again, even this summer, and even darker-toned styles. Check out the styles shown in magazines even now.

Some companies make hosiery concessions for summer, but with certain restrictions. For example, if hosiery is not worn, women must wear pants, long skirts, or knee-length (or longer) short skirts (no above-the-knee lengths). Without these qualifications, shorts may as well be allowed, particularly when a woman is sitting.

In fairness, the other consideration is that men are not allowed to wear shorts or have bare legs (or feet) in the workplace. Men have to wear socks and yes, they do not have to wear pantyhose, but neither does a woman. She has the option of knee-high styles, which is the equivalent of socks. Women do not have to wear neckties either, unless they are restaurant wait staff and that’s the prescribed uniform for that establishment.
If you are presented with a petition, take it to the leadership team in your company. Do not respond without support from the top.

On another note, the powers that be in many companies are reluctant to relax the dress code to include a “no hosiery required” policy considering the more serious tone prevalent today (the economy, the war on terrorism, etc.) Competition is keen and with all the corporate scandals, policy makers want more than ever to present a notable professional image to clients, customers, and just on the whole as a company. With all the layoffs and the job market suffering, it’s wise for women to take charge of their careers and present themselves in a highly professional manner, which includes the wearing of hosiery.

Best of luck to you,
Sherry Maysonave

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