'Scruffy' staff sent home as college seeks smarter look

9th October 2009 at 01:00
Union claims lecturer turned away from work for breaking new dress code

A lecturer was sent home from work this week to change his clothes, which were judged to be in breach of his college's new dress code.

The Birmingham Metropolitan College lecturer, who did not wish to be identified, was told to go home and change after turning up to work "scruffily" dressed, according to the University and College Union (UCU).

The college dress code instructs staff to wear a business suit or a smart skirt and blouse. It also tells staff to keep their hair neat and tidy, and minimal jewellery to a conventional and unostentatious design. Jeans and T-shirts with slogans or symbols are banned along with "outrageous" hairstyles. All tattoos and body piercings must be covered.

A memo sent to staff last week said that all staff are expected to present a "professional and corporate image" to students, clients, customers and visitors to the college.

"Where a member of staff disregards this policy, and hisher dress andor appearance is, in the college's view, unacceptable, heshe will be required to return home to change and make up the time lost while absent from work and may be subject to disciplinary action," it said.

The memo says that the policy is not intended to be discriminatory, and that it will "reasonably accommodate" staff whose religious or cultural needs determine their dress.

It also makes exceptions for sports, performing arts and lab staff, as well as for those in maintenance or on field trips. It also says that health and safety requirements may make the dress code impractical.

Those employees required to wear college-issue uniforms, for instance reception staff and security staff, are expected to wear their uniforms "appropriately" and to keep them "properly laundered".

A statement from the college said that the dress code was reissued in September as a result of requests from staff as to what was acceptable work wear and that staff respresentatives were consulted on the code.

"We deliver qualifications to over 8,000 16-19 learners and 30,000 adult learners, along with meeting the training needs of a range of businesses," it said. "It is, therefore, important that our staff present a professional image, and a dress code is one of the policies we have always asked them to adhere to."

Local representatives of the UCU say that the code was introduced out of the blue last week without any prior consultation.

Nick Varney, UCU official for the West Midlands, said: "I have never known an issue to agitate people as much as this. They feel it is a slight on their professionalism.

"The power relationship between staff and students in a college is different to that in schools. Colleges treat students as adults. Turning up in a three-piece suit is going to break that relationship down."

Colleges have periodically attempted to impose dress codes.

Nescot college in Surrey attempted to introduce a dress code four years ago in a bid to change institutional culture. It has since abandoned it.

Loraine Monk, a lecturer at Nescot and a UCU member, opposed the code at the time, and spoke on a motion at the Trades Union Congress (TUC) in 2005 opposing dress codes.

Ms Monk hit the headlines again last month when she opposed a motion to the TUC by the Society of Chiropodists and Podiatrists calling on employers to carry out risk assessments on women who wear high heels to work. Ms Monk said that women should not be lectured about what to wear.



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