Casual Fridays are acceptable, but not casual Monday through Thursday. That’s the message Toronto-based flight simulation company uFly sent to its employees by firing instructor Mitchell Casado for dressing too casually – a plaid shirt and jeans – during a CNN news report he was featured in.
uFly owner Claudio Teixeira said Casado made Canadians “look very bad all over the world.”
So can an employee be fired for breaking a workplace’s dress code?
It’s possible, says Tao Chu, Toronto branch manager for Randstad Canada, a human resources firm.
According to Chu, you could be fired for wearing inappropriate attire to work if it’s an ongoing problem you’ve been told about of before.
“Once they have been made aware and the problem keeps happening or the employee is very stubborn and just not wanting to dress appropriately for work then [firing them] would be the last option,” Chu said .
And Chu has seen it happen before where an employee was fired because of how they dressed.
“There isn’t a huge percentage of people – maybe a portion of one per cent have been fired – but it has happened and it’s usually repeated behaviour and may have tied into other behaviour where the person has been told several times,” said Chu. “It would be kind of like the ‘final straw’, let’s say, of a poor performing employee.”
Dress codes in Canada vary between organizations and institutions, but Chu says that attire has changed over the years and adopted a more relaxed “business casual” environment while still upholding a minimum level of standards.
And business casual means different things for men and women.
For men, it usually includes dress slacks, such as khakis or trousers, with a collared shirt. For women, a knee-length skirt, dress pants with a blouse or shirt with a collar is the way to go.
But the debate surrounding appropriate attire reaches beyond the workplace and into schools.
Recently, a school in Florida has been thinking about extending the dress code they implement on student to their parents. The school is looking to ban parents from wearing short shorts, sagging pants and pajama bottoms, among other items that students are told they are not allowed to wear.
And while schools have had their own dress codes for decades, another item has recently been put on the list of banned clothing: leggings.
A high school in Winnipeg, along with several other schools across North America, banned students from wearing leggings, as well as yoga pants and tights.
So are institutions legally allowed to enforce a dress code?
Yes, they are, but within reason.
The Ontario Human Rights Commission states, “While it is acceptable for men and women to have different uniforms, employers must make sure that any uniform policy does not undermine the dignity and right to full participation in the workplace of employees of either sex. An employer should be prepared to prove that any sex-linked differences in the dress code are bona fide occupation requirements.”
HR Council, a nonprofit organization for labour force issues, advises businesses to not get too specific with their dress codes so as not to single out genders, and to be considerate of different cultures, inviting input from employees and approving the code through a board of directors. Lastly, all employees should be made aware of the policy.
The reasoning behind dress codes stems from basic human psychology. Clothing has a powerful influence on people, on both the wearer and the public, so much so that a Northwestern study concluded that style can have an effect on how well people perform at work.
Jennifer Baumgartne, clinical psychologist and author of You Are What You Wear: What Your Clothes Reveal About You, told Forbes magazine there isn’t one style of dress that makes a person look successful or unsuccessful.
So why are dress codes so important?
“It is work,” she said, “so we do want people to take it seriously and arrive to work in a state of mind ready for work as opposed to relaxed. It’s the primary reason for there to be a minimum demand on dress code.”
It also has to do with a company’s image, adds Chu, and how they want to be perceived by the public and their customer base.
And as it turns out, what Casado wore that day while performing the flight simulation on CNN did have an effect on viewers and their perceptions.
According to Ben C. Fletcher, professor of psychology, clothing influences our impression of people in subtle ways.
“It is important to choose our dress style carefully because people will make all sorts of assumptions and decisions about us without proper evidence,” he writes in Psychology Today. “We are unlikely to know what these assessments are too, so it is quite possible that our clothes reveal more than we thought.”
But whether or not his plaid shirt and jeans were sending the wrong message, uFly was within their rights to let Casado go.
“In the end it has to do with the attitude of that particular company in terms of how strict their dress code is,” said Chu.