company is giving us secret aptitude tests, new employees and dress code, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. Should my PIP have been kept confidential?

Recently, I was put on a performance improvement plan (PIP). I didn’t receive any coaching about any of the problems it listed before it happened. I am writing a rebuttal for my personnel file to clarify some points.

I am wondering if I should talk in the rebuttal about the fact that there was no confidentiality about me being put on PIP. On the day of the meeting, a coworker who works after me came in and asked how it went. I said, “Fine,” but didn’t go into detail. He then said, “I heard you were put on a PIP.” I never talked to anyone at work about this meeting, so someone else had to have leaked it. I am shocked at the lack of professionalism, but I am worried that bringing up too much in my rebuttal will backfire. What should I do?

You’re right that there’s (generally) no need to share this type of thing with coworkers, but making a big deal about it probably isn’t going to help you, at a time when you want to be focused on issues much more core to your job. I do think you can mention it, but at most, I’d make it a very minor side note. As in, in actual parentheses and with the words “side note,” like this: “(As a side note, I was surprised when a coworker mentioned to me that he heard I’d been put on a PIP. I’m concerned that this wasn’t handled with more confidentiality and hope I can rely on your discretion around this in the future.”)

2. Can employer make us pay the cost of mistakes?

I work at a restaurant that is between the lines of restaurant and fast food. Apparently one of our policies is that if you waste food, for example burned a tray of rolls or dropped a rack of ribs, you’re paying for it personally out of your own paycheck. Or even if you’re serving the wrong portions of food. Our manager says that if you waste food, then they can take it out of your paycheck. My manager says that “all restaurants do it,” but I’ve never heard of them taking a cut from your paycheck. I personally have never had this specific problem at work, but I’m just curious to know if they are allowed to do this?

In most states, no. Most states make it illegal for an employer to deduct the cost of a mistake from an employee’s paycheck. Under certain limited circumstances, an employer can make you pay back losses caused by intentional misconduct, but burning a tray of rolls? No. You might consider contacting your state department of labor and seeing if they can intervene (and you can generally ask to stay anonymous).

The way an employer should deal with mistakes is by giving feedback on what you need to do differently, warning you if you’re falling short, and ultimately replacing you if the mistakes continue and are serious.

3. Talking to a new employee about unprofessional dress

I just hired a new employee – who dressed very professionally during the interview process – but since he started on Monday has come into the office in a cartoon t-shirt and jeans, as one example. Additionally, he came to an optional office fundraiser on the Saturday before he started in a t-shirt and shorts as opposed to more appropriate attire. While we definitely don’t have a “dress code” at our office – business casual is the norm.

I suppose I should have set better expectations before he began, but given my experience with him in the interviews, it hadn’t even occurred to me to do so – but even still, my miss. He’s very young, fresh out of college, so that might have something to do with it.

How do I tactfully share with him that he needs to dress more professionally? It’s his first week, and I don’t want to start off on the wrong foot or make him feel uncomfortable, but I definitely need him to adjust his behavior.

Talk to him ASAP — as in today — because the longer you wait, the more uncomfortable he’ll be when he realizes that he’s been dressing wrong the whole time. Take him aside at the end of the day and say something like, “I wanted to talk to you about our dress code. It’s business casual, which means no t-shirts, shorts, or jeans. I know ‘business casual’ can be a vague term and so I wanted to get us aligned going forward.” (The reason to wait for the end of the day to do this is so that he’s not sitting there feeling awkward about his shirt all day.)

Also, if you have influence into your company’s dress code, you might urge them to spell out what is and isn’t acceptable. Using a term like “business casual” is too open to interpretation; since there clearly are things that wouldn’t be acceptable, be clear with people about what those things are!

4. My company is giving us aptitude tests and won’t tell us how they’ll be used

I work somewhere that now requires all job candidates to pass a 50-question aptitude test (think the SATs..) in order to even get an interview. The test is supposed to predict long-term success. The company made all current employees take the test but will not ever tell us if we passed or how one would pass or fail (we think it’s 30/50 but who knows). However, we are getting very few candidates for new positions because apparently not many people pass the test. A lot of current employees are uneasy about job security now. What do you think this means for us? Would we be passed up for job promotions, raises, and moving up in the company if we didn’t pass? Will we even be considered?

I don’t know … but someone in your company does. Ask. It’s totally reasonable to say, “Can you give us a sense of how these tests will be used for us? Will our results affect things like raises and promotions?”

5. Can company forbid us from using side exits?

Our company sent out a new security policy and is mandating that all employees must use the front door as the main entry/exit point. We are now required to badge in and out of the building at all times so they know who is in the building at all times. They claim in an event of an emergency all exits will be unlocked but to me this doesn’t make me feel safe at all and I feel like this is a total violation. In addition they want us to sign a form stating we agree to follow this procedure and if we do not get pre-authorization to use a side exit we can be disciplined. I often leave through the side door to get to my car as this is closer to the employee parking lot. Can they enforce this policy?

Sure, unless it’s creating some sort of safety hazard. They have to ensure that you have free egress in case of an emergency, but as long as they’re complying with safety rules in that regard, they can certainly tell you that you can only use the main entry/exit in routine situations.

{ 402 comments… read them below }

  1. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

    #4, I wonder if they are testing current employees as a control….they can see how their good performers score and then look for similar scores in the applicants.

    1. Fucshia*

      That’s what I thought too. It’s what I would do if I wanted to check the validity of a test like that.

    2. Perpetua*

      #4 – My thoughts exactly – using current employees for validation of a test is not uncommon in organizational psychology, and shouldn’t influence work outcomes for them. However, our ethics code (at least in my country) states that people subjected to psychological testing have the right to see their results. Then again, if psychologists are not involved in the testing, I guess there are no such provisions.

      1. Reader*

        That makes sense to use as a control. But then why so strict to the incoming employees? If barely any job applicants are passing the test (as stated) and their scores are simply measured against a control of current employees, that’s questionable. I’d venture to guess that there are a lot of current employees who failed the test if applicants aren’t making it. So Current employees are just grandfathered in, even though they don’t meet the new qualifications? Or their scores were just used in the control but yet nobody seems able to “pass” the test now..?

        1. Colette*

          I’d be curious about whether the issue is that job applicants aren’t passing the test or whether they’re just not getting as many job applicants. I know I’d think twice (or three times) about applying for a job that required a 50 question test.

          1. Windmill Tilter Extraordinaire*

            Early in my career, I worked briefly for a company that administered a test to determine logic abilities. I was told by my manager that I was the first person ever to get a perfect score.

            I didn’t last long. Maybe 2 months. Not even on my resume. :)

            It turns out that I’m highly allergic to the type of bureaucracy that runs amok in a company where tests like these are considered a good idea. I am glad for the experience. It’s another item in the list of “what not to do.”

          2. Wander*

            If they are requiring the test with the application, especially for every single position, I imagine that could be a big part of the problem. The company I work for has a test as well, but you only take it after the phone interview and first interview. By that point, I was interested in the job and the company (and there was clearly mutual interest), so I didn’t mind taking it, but if it had been with the application? Eh, I might have skipped over it. Spending an hour on an application for a job that I’m sure hundreds of other people are applying to as well just didn’t seem like an effective use of my time.

              1. Reader*

                I agree that that would definitely deter applicants. Who wants to work for a company that makes them take this test? It’s the holding company that requires it and not the actual company in this case..but you wouldn’t know that when you apply and see this weird test (along with a separate personality test, I might add).

                1. PE software subsidiary*

                  Sorry to break it to you but you problem work for the same parent company.

                  They rank the tests ABCD. Anyone below a B will not get promoted very much I’d at all. Those with a B can not be senior management. Only those with an A can Make it to the top.

                  That being said, promotions are quick if you think you got a 37 or higher. They have been for some of the reviews I read if their other subsidiaries

          3. Fabulously Anonymous*

            A few years ago I applied at McKinsey and they administered a test. It doesn’t seem to impact their ability to attract candidates.

            1. Kimberlee, Esq.*

              Well, random companies A, B and C might not be able to get away with the same things that famous companies can. Google will never run short of applicants, even if they started requiring people to film music videos as part of the process.

            2. Lora*

              Yeah…analysis of their testing techniques and subsequent discussion of the importance of understanding the assumptions in your model doesn’t go over well in the interview, either. I’m just saying.

        2. Leah*

          It could be that they’re not using the results properly. I went to college in a country where grading on a curve does not happen. For a statistics course taken by all first years, they decided to grade our midterms on a curve to demonstrate the power of statistics. It was a complete disaster. They messed up and ended up with an inverted bell curve. You can imagine how well this went over with a class of overachievers.

          1. Observer*

            Sounds perfect! Not only the power of statistics, but the power of statistics mis-applied, or mis-understood.

            But, I can just imagine the rage and gnashing of teeth. Did they ever straighten that out?

          2. Not So NewReader*

            Similar idea- are they using the correct answer code?

            One place I worked could not get anyone through the test.

            Wrong answer code sheet. Over 100 people took the test and failed.

        3. Wander*

          I was wondering if they’re going to use the current employees’ test results as a control to lower the difficulty of the test. If the problem truly is that a ton of people are taking the test but very few pass, they might be looking at high performing employees and saying well, X, Y, and Z would have failed on this section too, so maybe we’ll lower the requirements.

          Alternately, the test includes a lot of job/industry specific knowledge that current employees learned while working there, so while they passed the test, applicants would be less likely to.

    3. Angela*

      That’s exactly what my company did. They specifically tested high and low performers to get a good feel for how they would want an applicant to score on the test.

    4. themmases*

      It doesn’t really make sense to use current employees as a control, though, unless no one’s supervisor knows their score and the score is never used in deciding what position to offer new hires or to make promotion decisions. Unless all of those are true, the score isn’t just (possibly) associated with high performers– it’s determining who the high performers are.

    5. Pennalynn Lott*

      I once interviewed for a sales position at (and then subsequently hired by) a software company that made me take a personality test. They had given it to everyone in the sales dept and then used the highest performers’ profiles as a model for possible new hires. I matched the VP of Sales’ profile perfectly. I loved that job and did very, very well in it. Sadly, the VP died from brain cancer and the sales dept went to hell-in-a-handbasket after being handed over to the senior-most manager — who was a misogynistic ass from the Old School Way of Conducting Business (lying to customers and “getting one over” on them, using intentionally misleading sales tactics, etc.). I, the only woman in the whole US new business sales force, was put on PIP within a month of him taking over, and I was at a new job 22 days after that.

      Anyway — My point was that I think aptitude or personality tests can be done right, but I also think at least a summary of the results should be shared in all cases.

    6. Anon*

      The optimist in me absolutely wants to believe this – that they’re just measuring the test against current employees to see how well it predicts performance, and they’ll stop filtering out all of the applicants if (when?) they find that it is not a good predictor. (I’m actually very skilled at standardized tests but haven’t used that type of intelligence to a great extent in most of my jobs, and these are low-level but degree-requiring, career-track jobs. I think personality traits are more important than the type of intelligence you use on the SATs for the majority of types of work.)

      However, if that was the intention, I feel like they’d have given the test to employees and determined whether it predicted performance BEFORE they actually implemented it as a candidate screening measure, so I don’t know if my inner optimist is right. My inner realist is saying that if they’ve already implemented it, someone with decision-making power is already sold on the validity of the test.

  2. Dan*


    “They claim in event if an emergency, all exit doors will be unlocked.”

    Your point here wasnt very clear, but if you’re saying that they are going to be physically prohibiting the door from being opened, that’s an OSHA violation. They can’t get away with “we will unlock it in an emergency” because if its an electronic system, those locks could fail. And OSHA doesnt like that either.

    1. Fucshia*

      Even if they are not electronic. “We’ll unlock them in an emergency” is what they said at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory.

      1. Observer*

        Actually, the reverse. If electronic locks are properly installed, then there is no real worry. Worst case, if electricity fails, the locks stop working and the doors are unlocked. On the other hand, locks that have to be physically unlocked present a real safety issue, as you simply cannot guarantee that the right person with the right key will be present and able to open the door.

    2. smilingswan*

      “Code 10! Code 10! This is Joe Clark! Get those chains off the doors, the enemy’s here!”

    3. Phyllis*

      Not only OSHA, but I doubt the fire marshal would find their setup meets Life Safety Code compliance. Also, OSHA has an option on their website for submitting complaints about these types of matters & they are good about keeping the identity of the complainant confidential.

      1. Anonymous*

        Thanks I’ll have to actually go check these doors once this new system goes live and make sure the exits are actually unlocked!

        1. Vicki*

          What many companies do is set all side exit doors to work but trigger an alarm. In an emergency, the alarm either disengages or doesn’t matter. From the inside, the doors are never “locked” (push bar). From the outside, some don’t even have handles.

    4. Jennifer M.*

      There may be a grammar or syntax issue causing some confusion. “They claim the doors will be unlocked in case there is an emergency” is different than “They claim the doors will be unlocked when there is an emergency”. The first one is just fine, the second one gets you a visit from the fire marshal.

      1. Audiophile*

        It sounds like the door will be unlocked, but they just don’t want employees using it to enter and exit.

        My last company did this, they had turnstiles and decided they wanted employees to badge in and out. Most employees were panicked about why the company wanted to “track” them, but it seemed it wasn’t really related to that.

        1. majigail*

          I had to do this with one specific employee several years ago because he would enter through a back door whenever he was late and use it to leave early. On top of that, there was no timeclock near that door, so he wasn’t punching in and out (he was hourly) and I was not certain the timekeeping he was sharing with payroll and me was correct. In order to really get down to the truth, it was something I had to demand. Our building is the size of a large ranch house though, so it wasn’t like I was making him walk a ton out of his way.

          1. Jessa*

            Yeh, but that’s the right way to do it. You had a specific problem with a specific person and you dealt with that person not with everyone.

        2. Lily in NYC*

          Those turnstiles and locked doors requiring electronic badges to enter saved my butt when my boss resigned. His internal replacement hated me and decided to get rid of me and told HR that she wanted to fire me because I was late every day. I went straight to the president’s office because I knew they disliked her and considered her to be a manipulative liar (yet they still gave her my boss’ job; go figure). They ran a report that listed the times I used my key card in the morning. Surprise surprise, I was at least 20 minutes early every single day and was not late even once. Evil boss was told to stop wasting time with petty crap; it was awesome. It did make her hate me even more, but she was never able to get rid of me and she left in disgrace for unrelated reasons. She’s Hong Kong’s problem now.

        3. Ask a Manager* Post author

          It sounds like the door will be unlocked, but they just don’t want employees using it to enter and exit.

          That was my read of it.

          And badging in and out can be used as a safety precaution; if there’s an emergency, they know who is still in the building and who isn’t.

          1. neverjaunty*

            If the OP isn’t sure which they meant, that’s something that needs clarification ASAP. If by “unlocked” they mean the doors are going to have those emergency exit alarm things so they ARE unlocked, you just can’t stroll in and out, that’s one thing, but if they’re locked, not so much.

          2. MaryMary*

            I’ve worked at several employers who use badging and restricted entrances as a security measure. If everyone, employee and visitor alike, come in through a single (or limited) entrance, it’s easier for security personnel to identify who should be there and who should not. Anyone who doesn’t have a badge has to sign in and have an employee escort. Other doors were always available as emergency exits, but they were generally locked from the outside and set off an alarm when opened from the inside.

            1. DMented Kitty*

              Exactly. I’ve worked in various companies that actually require a badge to get in/out as a security measure, to make sure only employees are allowed into the building, and any guests have to go through the main entrance and deal with getting a guest pass from security.

              There are other emergency exits, but opening them in non-emergency situations will trigger an alarm (there’s always a sign). I’ve seen stores that have them, too. We’re sure they work, though, as we exit through those doors during a fire drill.

          3. Elizabeth the Ginger*

            My workplace (a school) has employees sign in and out when we come onto campus. For a while people were concerned about why they felt the need to monitor our movements, but it turns out it’s for exactly the reason you say – if there’s an emergency, they can quickly know if everyone’s accounted for and not (at best) waste time or (at worse) risk a rescue worker’s life hunting the building for someone who decided to run an errand over lunch. The secretary brings the sign-in sheets out during fire drills to practice this procedure.

            1. Chinook*

              “if there’s an emergency, they can quickly know if everyone’s accounted for and not (at best) waste time or (at worse) risk a rescue worker’s life hunting the building for someone who decided to run an errand over lunch. The secretary brings the sign-in sheets out during fire drills to practice this procedure.”

              Having been through a real school fire, I can atest to the fact that this is how it works. We temporarily lost 2 classes (they evacuated out a far door and their sub didn’t know where the evacuation point was) and the firefighters were suiting up to go in and stopped only when the kids were spotted. Once all humans were verified out of the building, they were then able to focus on containing the fire to the building and putting it out.

              This is also why no one should be allowed to stay in their office during drills – no one’s job is worth risking multiple fire fighters’ lives.

              1. De Minimis*

                We had a fire drilling during a online training once…we all just had to leave the room and let it go on without us! They were still going by the time we all got back, so we just acted like nothing had happened.

          4. Elizabeth West*

            My company is REALLY strict on the badging, both for emergency and access control. You have to have a badge to get in and out, no matter what. You can get out the doors easily. But you can’t get back into any doors except the lobby without your badge. The front desk person is supposed to take the sign-in sheet with her when evacuating.

            At Exjob, we didn’t have access control, but you were supposed to be badged if you were visiting. At Exjob, I forgot to grab the sign-in sheet when a tornado hit us (hey, a tornado was hitting us!), but the only visitor on the premises was actually sheltering in the bathroom right next to me, so it’s not like we didn’t know where he was.

            1. De Minimis*

              We require a badge to get into employee entrances and also departmental entrances, but are not strict on each employee badging in—it’s well established that the first person to get to the entrance in the morning punches in their code and holds the door for others behind them. The electronic locks are only on the outside. I think there might be some kind of breach of our certification requirements if people had to use their badge to exit.

              Of course, the big issue with the way we do badges is the access records would be absolutely useless to determine who was in the building in an emergency situation, but our current plan involves designated “safety captains” taking attendance which is probably better anyway.

              It’s more about keeping non-employees out of employee areas, and also controlling access to individual departments. Only a few people have access to all departments.

              1. Jessa*

                And everyone who holds the door for a string of people categorically knows that every single one of those people are legitimate accessors and one was not fired the night before and escorted out as dangerous? That policy is the kind of thing that got people fired in places I work. You do not let people follow on to you.

                1. De Minimis*

                  We don’t have that type of policy. I’ve seen the head administrators be part of the door line.

                  Although sudden firings have happened, they are uncommon, and our workplace is small enough [and gossipy enough] that everyone would know almost immediately if someone were ever fired like that.

                  I should add also that we are a public facility, so there would be nothing to keep someone from coming in through the public entrance anyway—which may have something to do with why we don’t have that type of “no following” policy in place–it would not be useful since we’re a public health facility.

                  Access is much tighter within the individual departments, and in those cases I don’t think someone would allow a person in if they did not know for sure that they belonged there.

                2. Judy*

                  One place I worked at had a door that many of the employees used, that during peak times they turned off the badge access and had one of the guards on the door for an hour.

            2. Chinook*

              “At Exjob, I forgot to grab the sign-in sheet when a tornado hit us (hey, a tornado was hitting us!), ”

              Don’t feel bad. One teacher I worked with picked up his laptop, took the attendance sheet from under it and then put the laptop back on the desk and evacuated said burning building. Ditto for a few students who left their purses under their desks. We have all beene well trained not to take anything with us when we evacuate.

                1. Jazzy Red*

                  I hate them, too. I live only one hour from Joplin, and I’m more scared of them now than I’ve ever been.

            3. Jessa*

              Also at our company they had off premises back up for the company data, so the badge station info also went there so if the place went up you could still get to the info. Nowadays with smart phones, I’m sure there’s an “app for that” where management can immediately access the records from outside the building without worrying about paper copies.

              People did not understand why I was so annoyingly retentive about NOT allowing follow ons to me. I would stand there and make sure the door closed on them.

          5. Darcy*

            This was an issue that a coworker of mine had to deal with on 9/11. They didn’t actually know who was in the building working that day, and obviously had to change procedures later. So it makes sense to me that they want to know who is there in the event of an emergency.

          6. Jazzy Red*

            That’s how I understood it, too.

            This happened at my last place of employment. It was a fire drill, not a real emergency, and one of the younger guys had his earbuds in with the volume turned up really loud, and didn’t hear the alarm, and apparently didn’t notice the emergency lights strobing like a hundred disco balls. We all gathered outside at our respective spots and he was the only one unaccounted for. Our “floor marshalls” had to go inside together and search the building because he wasn’t in his cubicle, but they finally located him.

            It was reassuring to me, to know that someone would notice if I was still in the building, and that they would tell the fire dept. that I was still inside and needed rescuing.

        4. Bea W*

          That’s how I took it. I work in a secure building. All the doors open for exit but they are alarmed. The one side door that is not alarmed (access to bike storage and lockers) is badge access only.

          I suppose a dramatic change like this is unnerving to people who don’t work in secured buildings, but it’s really not as worrisome as the OP fears. Did the employer explain the reason for the changes? This is one of thise cases where a clear explanation of the reason behind the change is helpful in getting buy in from employees.

    5. LQ*

      The OP also says that they can get disciplined for using them AND they can get preauthorization to use them. To me this really sounds like they’ll be unlocked all the time they just don’t want people using them. This does not sound like a locked door osha violation.

      1. Anonymous*

        Yes it seems to mean that they will always be unlocked but they weren’t really clear in that aspect.

    6. Laura*

      It depends. We have electronic locks on all our doors, which always unlock as we approach them – electronically mediated. This is permitted by our local fire code, because there is a fail safe that when the power fails, the door goes into the unlocked position. It’s constantly using a little power to keep the door locked, in other words.

      If the did it that way, but without the “someone walks close, unlock” trigger that lets us use these doors to exit, I believe it would still be allowable.

      1. Windchime*

        This is how our doors are, from the “inside”. From the outside, you have to badge back in. Even if I leave the room to go to the restroom in the hall, I hear the lock click as I approach and I can easily get out, but I have to badge my way back into the room where my cube is.

        Sounds like the OP’s office is just trying to keep closer tabs on the comings and goings of the office.

    7. Who are you?*

      My thought is that the doors will be unlocked but the employees will be unable to use the door unless there’s an emergency. Chances are they’ll be armed with those annoying alarms that sound when the door is pushed open to keep people from going through the door.

    8. Artemesia*

      This jumped out at me too. Look at all of the worst disasters in industrial history like the Shirtwaist Factory fire where dozens died and the common theme is locked exit doors.

      Your company can alarm exit doors so they can’t be used to come and go but they cannot lock them legally or ethically. I would push back on this hard (not using the doors but being sure they are usable in emergency) so that you don’t end up pushing against a locked door in a fire.

  3. Patrick*

    #3 – It sounds like the bigger issue is that you don’t want to admit you have a dress code. If may be relaxed, but “business casual” is still a dress code. There’s a lot of start-ups where jeans and a cartoon t-shirt would be acceptable (I worked at one for a while). If you told the employee, “we don’t have a dress code”, then I can understand their confusion, especially if they came from an environment like that. Perhaps do a better job of explaining your expectations universally.

    1. Dan*

      True that.

      I broke all sorts of fashion rules as an intern, even shorts in the office. Oops.

      These days, I’ve graduated to jeans and collared shirts. I still wear athletic shoes.

    2. Anonymous*

      Thanks for your thoughts – there is no formal dress code & no discussion was had in advance, one way or the other. In the past it’s just been a common sense thing – we have only 15 or so employees so this is the first issue I’ve see in a year. We’re a nonprofit and donors sometimes visit the office – so cartoon t-shirts aren’t appropriate, but we don’t have hard & fast rules so I think it’s easy to understand why he wasn’t clear & a good flag for us to be more explicit in the future.

      1. MK*

        You still don’t want to admit you have a dress code. ”Cartoon t-shirts aren’t appropriate” is a hard and fast rule, it is (part of) a dress code. No dress code means that there is no such thing as inappropriate, as long as the employee is clean and not indecent. It doesn’t have to be written down, nor does it have to spell out the clothing items one is allowed to wear to qualify as one.

        On the other hand, this employee could have been more aware of office culture. I wouldn’t show up in an office where everyone wears business casual wearing jeans and a T-shirt, especially not on my first week. Unless they spefically asked about the dress code and you specifically told them there isn’t one, so they naturally took you at your word. In which case it wouldn’t be amiss if you started your talk with them with an apology’ or at least an acknowledgement that you inadvertantly mislead them.

        Even if you don’t want to admit to dress code, it would be better if you qualify your answer to similar questions in the future. As in ” we don’t have a strict, written dress code, but the norm is business casual and shorts and jeans aren’t appropriate.

        1. Bwmn*

          From my experience in the nonprofit field – with the exception of very formal/large organizations (i.e. hospitals) the “common sense dress code” is very common. So terms like “business casual”, “no club clothes” or my favorite “show thoughtful discretion” are all terms I’ve heard. Because often it’s not a case of “no jeans” as a blanket rule – but rather “only very nice, well fitted jeans in xyz contexts”.

          My overall point isn’t so much about whether there is or isn’t a dress code, but in terms of good nonprofit mentoring – giving the employee insight into picking up the more subtle aspects of what is/is not acceptable would help this guy out over the long run far more than giving him a strict list of do’s and don’ts.

          1. Vicki*

            The “common sense dress code” is very common.”

            “Common sense is not so common.”
            ― Voltaire, A Pocket Philosophical Dictionary

            In my world (tech), a “common sense dress code” means you are clothed.

        2. neverjaunty*

          Anonymous said they have a dress code, it just isn’t a formal one, and that is what contributed to the situation.

          Anonymous, I suspect if you frame it as “It isn’t your fault that you didn’t know this, but we do require business casual – no jeans, khakis are fine – because we sometimes have donors visit the office” he’ll probably react well. And AAM is right, do it immediately – if you wait it becomes embarrassing whereas right now it’s just a communication issue.

          1. Artemesia*

            I don’t understand why any supervisor would not deal with this on day one. If one is reluctant to give feedback on something like this how effective are they going to be at other supervisory responsibilities like effective feedback on productivity? Common sense would suggest sitting the person down at the end of the day on day one and cluing them in. It gets harder with each passing day. And if you have a new employee dressing like this when all those around him are in khakis and polos then you have a huge red flag about how clueless the guy is about the workplace.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              In fairness, this stuff can be hard to deal with on the spot. I’d have basically no job if figuring out the right words to use on the spot in every management situation was easy.

        3. Jessa*

          I was always told to overdress the first day just in case, and then observe what everyone else wore, and things like what day it was (is it Friday or the last work day of the week for them? Is it a holiday? Was there a notice that visitors would be there?) and then follow that plan. See what others at my level were wearing.

          Common sense says if nobody is wearing shorts and tshirts even if they may technically be allowed, one should not do that.

        4. RecruiterM*

          I once worked in IT at a government contractor company, and the answer to my question about a dress code was “Jeans are not very career-enhancing”.
          Among other things this made me think if I am really interested in “enhancing” my career at that company.

      2. RobM*

        When it comes to setting policy, “common sense thing” is code for “I’m going to make you read the bosses mind and be annoyed if you fail to do so”.

        That’s not a sign of good management. Set a clear and equitable dress code.
        Also, re: turning up ‘under-dressed’ at the weekend – I really don’t see this as a “common sense thing” but rather a case of even more definitively needing to issue guidelines if you want people to behave in a certain way… I’ve never been expected to dress up in business attire whenever I’ve worked a weekend since entering full-time work.

        1. UK Anon*

          I was going to say this too. I don’t know anything much about optional office fundraisers, but it sounds to me – and moreso if it’s happening at the weekend – as a casual event where I would have been expected to wear my normal, casual weekend clothes and would have been out of place in office attire.

          (Side note: this is where I think women do have the advantage; there are lots of dresses that can fall on either side of the casual/smart line in an office setting that are supremely useful for first weeks on new jobs. But I digress!)

          1. LBK*

            Seriously, women can get away with so much more when it comes to dress code…when we have business casual Fridays in our office some of the women wear outfits that look completely indistinguishable from what they would wear on the weekends at home. For men it just means we don’t have to wear a tie, but everything else is the same.

            1. Lily in NYC*

              That’s an interesting assumption; I don’t find it to be the case anywhere I’ve worked. We are business casual with casual fridays, but we are still expected to look professional and I’ve never seen a woman here wearing what I would consider weekend wear -I admit I’m curious what you consider to be weekend wear? Because if someone showed up here wearing leggings or athletic type pants, even nice ones, there would be jaws dropped all over the place. Flip flops will get you shunned. We tend to police ourselves.

              1. Kelly L.*

                +1, and I would dearly love it if this post didn’t get derailed by the “women have it easier” argument that always comes up under this topic.

                I do think we have more options for warm weather than men (a lot of office-appropriate dresses are actually quite cool), and I think men have more/better options for cold weather than we do. But both genders have options for levels of formality.

                1. LBK*

                  In no way do I mean to start an argument. Just a bit of friendly envy – not saying “It’s wrong and sexist that women have easier dress codes! Men’s rights forever!” because that’s stupid. I just meant that I find the women in my office get a lot more flexibility with their outfits and what’s considered professional, especially since we aren’t an office that requires suits.

                  For example, they can get away with just a regular long-sleeved t-shirt on top, as long as it’s a moderately nice material like cashmere or wool. I always have to have a collared shirt on, and if it’s not a business casual day it has to be a button down with a tie – even if I wear a nice sweater, I have to have a button down on under it.

                  Of course, the whole thing is silly because we aren’t client-facing and we’re not at the corporate HQ, so there’s no chance anyone who isn’t one of our coworkers would ever see us. But that’s a separate issue.

              2. MK*

                I think ”weekend wear” is not a helpful term, because it basically means ” what one wears in their free time, which varies widely. I know people who pick an out if it and put on makeup to go to the supermarket and others who go in their pyjamas. It’s varies too much.

                I don’t think women have it easier, just that they have more options. In my profession, we are required to dress formally 80% of the time. For men that means suit-and-tie, no ifs, no buts, end of story. As a woman I can get away wearing long-sleeved dresses, certain tops that are halfway between a jacket and a blouse or cardigan, short-sleeved jackets in the summer, even a coat that, although short, structured and made of black satin, is still technically a trenchcoat.

                1. Anonsie*

                  I think ”weekend wear” is not a helpful term, because it basically means ” what one wears in their free time, which varies widely.

                  Whole-heartedly agreed. Whenever there’s an outside-work-work-event and I ask what to wear, people always say this. On the weekends I either dress like Lisbeth Salander or I’m full-on frumped out, so you are definitely going to have to get more specific because I am essentially going to have to dress for work.

                  Last time I went to a weekend work BBQ where they said “wear whatever” I wore jeans, a tshirt, and patterned tennis shoes. People kept chuckling that I looked like a little kid or hinting that my outfit was too casual and not appropriate. Everyone else was in nice sun dresses or pressed khakis. I kept thinking, this is not “wear whatever,” guys.

                2. Mints*

                  Lisberh Salander? I knew I liked you, Anonsie.

                  Sometimes it feels like everyone wears things that are work appropriate but just barely not formal enough, and I’m like, no, I’m 23, my weekend wear is not work appropriate, at all.

                3. Koko*

                  And having more options can sometimes be worse than having fewer. Sometimes I enjoy the variety I get to wear as a woman. Sometimes I envy male coworkers who can wear the same 2 nice suits and a handful of dress shirts day in and day out. I have a bit more freedom to express myself, but I also have to be more careful with the, “Is this office-appropriate?” morning evaluation (and lordy, sometimes you just don’t realize quite how sheer a fabric is until you’re in meeting room light rather than home or store light, or how much a skirt rides up and gets shorter until you’ve been walking around in it for hours and not just trying it on in front of a mirror), and I know without a doubt I’ve spent more on my professional wardrobe than nearly all the men I work with.

              3. LBK*

                Gah, I don’t really know the right way to phrase this – I don’t really mean weekend wear. More like an outfit that wouldn’t be blatantly casual, but also wouldn’t be out of place in a casual setting outside of work – so not, like, a button down and khakis or a blazer, but more than a graphic tee and jeans.

                1. doreen*

                  I think I know exactly what you mean by weekend wear – you’re talking about the clothes that used to be sold in the “ladies sportswear” section, not the “active wear” section. You wouldn’t wear it to engage in a sport, but you might wear it to watch a tennis or golf tournament. It’s not as casual as jeans and a t-shirt but not nearly as formal as a suit. It’s the sort of clothing that I wear to places/events when my husband is wearing khakis and a casual button down shirt ( the kind that would look wrong with a tie)

                  Just to let you know, the fact that women have more options doesn’t necessarily make it easier. Men at my level have little flexibility (they always have to wear a tie and have a jacket/blazer available) but at least they aren’t always wondering if they are going to look too formal/informal as I do. If I wear a suit, I’ll probably look overdressed, as the men rarely wear actual suits but there isn’t a standard women’s outfit that is equivalent to a man’s collared shirt, tie and pants. There are a lot of outfits that might be equivalent and it often depends on the specifics of the item – one t-shirt style top might be fine, while another is not. I’m sure I spend more time than my male colleagues thinking about clothes just because there are many possible outfits that fall too close to the line dividing “shirt,tie,pants” from “dockers and casual button down shirt”.

                2. LBK*

                  Yes! That’s exactly what I meant – sportswear. I always forget that term because it confuses me that it has nothing to do with what you would wear to play sports.

                  And you’re right – that does make sense that having more variation also means more room for error in terms of appropriate level of formality. As a man who does like to vary my outfits and mix and match pieces, I do see it as harder to accomplish that since I’m limited to what types of clothes I can wear, but I do see the flipside of that as you pointed out.

        2. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

          I agree with you.
          It feels a bit pedantic to me that we have a written “common sense” business casual dress code, but it got there because some people didn’t have common sense.

          I don’t like that it is written out but the alternative of “read my mind, nope, wrong, I look askance at you” is worse.

              1. Not So NewReader*

                My ignorance is going to show here, I guess. People use askance incorrectly? (I very seldom hear anyone use it.)

        3. Mike B.*

          “That’s not a sign of good management. Set a clear and equitable dress code.”

          Or, better, don’t.

          Your employee is wearing something that makes him comfortable and is not offensive to the eyes. Why not use this as an opportunity to eliminate what vestiges of a dress code you have remaining? There are few uses of office resources more pointless than demanding that your employees meet certain arbitrary standards in their physical presentation. (Yes, you have donors in the office at times; I don’t see that as necessarily meaningful. My company has clients in the office regularly, and the only people expected to dress for the occasion are the account managers and creative staff who will be working directly with them. No one appears offended by the relaxed protocol.)

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            It really depends on the OP’s context, which isn’t something we have enough information about. There are absolutely organizations where what you wear matters to donors and others who visit the office. Example: I used to work on drug policy reform, an issue that’s often associated with hippies and potheads. We were very deliberate about requiring people to dress professionally, because we had reporters, legislators, and philanthropists visiting the office and knew that if we were lax in that department, it would reinforce existing stereotypes about the issue. (We also were strict about no long hair for men, no facial piercings, etc. for the same reason.)

            When you’re in advocacy, people judge the messenger. Nonprofits often have a real interest in what image they’re putting out to the public.

            1. Mike B.*

              That’s a fair point which I hadn’t considered–my own experience in nonprofit was in a far less sensitive area (a professional organization for graphic artists, so both creative and corporate), so expectations were very different.

              That said, OP’s work environment is already at least business casual, so I wonder just how importance they place on image.

              1. jersey anon*

                I work at a nonprofit in a director position. I can wear jeans every day if I choose. We are very relaxed about the dress code. In fact, I am not sure we even have one.

          2. neverjaunty*

            What your clients expect may be very different than what OP’s clients expect, particularly if you’re in a different business – say, IT rather than a nonprofit.

            Also, c’mon. Your office has a dress code. I’m sure that if some guy started showing up to work dressed like he stepped out of a Tom of Finland cartoon (don’t google that at work), or if a female manager came in topless every day in solidarity with Femen, even your extremely mellow bosses might not go with “But isn’t it a pointless waste of office resources to demand we meed certain arbitrary standards in our physical presentation?”

          3. Observer*

            If that works in your office culture and clientele, then it makes sense to go with that. But in most other office contexts that won’t fly. This is especially true when it comes to donors, especially big and / or potential donors. They can show looking like whatever, but they absolutely do look differently at the organization if the people they see are not dressed “appropriately” (generally business casual.)

            1. Jessa*

              Yeh, the closest thing I had to a code when managing the answering service (unless we got a memo saying people were coming into the centre,) was “neat, clean and not obscene. Also in good repair.” IE no ripped jeans and no NSFW t-shirt slogans. And I fought against the “people are coming in” thing too, because seriously we answer phones for a living, we’re not counselors, or doctors, or working in a lawyer’s office. Who cares what we look like. I mean seriously if the visiting people didn’t notice we were not dressed normally (people would be uncomfortable and all,) I never got the idea that people in what is essentially a call centre had to dress up.

          4. RobM*

            MikeB I work for a place that has a very relaxed dress code. We have staff who work in customer facing roles in jeans and t-shirt.

            But we still have a dress code. I can’t remember the exact terms but it specifies that your clothing should allow you to work in a safe manner and non-offensive (e.g. no rude slogans).

            In any case, my point was that whatever dress code an employer does or does not have, it should be clearly communicated and not left to “chance”.

        4. Cat*

          I don’t think that expecting people to pick up on basic social cues like what everyone around them is wearing is asking them to “read your mind.” That’s the kind of basic social sense that most people have and if it’s a small organization, it’s not surprising they haven’t run into someone who doesn’t before.

          That said, they have now and they shouldn’t punish the guy for it; just tell him to wear less casual clothing. But it’s not actually unreasonable to expect employees to look around, see everyone else is wearing business casual, and follow suit (or ask if they’re not sure and be told “no formal dress code but we dress business casual since donors come in”). It’s just . . . a skill that some people don’t have.

          1. LCL*

            I was that guy in my late teens/early twenties. I would have been grateful if someone would have taken me aside and explained things. The only “guidance” I ever received was “you should dress better.” And when you are a tall woman, you can’t just copy what the well dressed woman is wearing because those clothes didn’t exist in your size.

            1. fposte*

              The exact brands, no. But save for the weirdness of the suit discussion, you can still extrapolate–if people are in nice sweaters and slacks, your Tweety Bird shirt is out.

              1. Windchime*

                Do you work in my office? There is a lady here who wears a sleeveless chambray shirt with some kind of Disney figure embroidered on it. This is a director-level person. We are mostly business casual, but all the other directors dress on the very, very nice end of business casual (long-sleeved dress shirts and slacks for the men, suits or nice slacks/blouses for the women).

              2. Erica*

                You are overestimating young, geeky people’s ability to “extrapolate” anything about clothes. One extrapolates/infers/generalizes based on experience. When you have almost no experience, such as coming straight from college and never having given a toss about clothes, there is no pool of knowledge to draw on. Clear cut rules are very helpful in such a situation.

            2. A Bug!*

              I agree. When I was younger I always took people’s words at face value. If I were told there was no dress code, I’d wear what was comfortable for me – back then, a T-shirt and jeans. I’d assume that everybody else had the same option and chose to wear what was comfortable for them, and wouldn’t feel obligated to emulate them. If I were told “We don’t have a defined dress code here, but business casual is the guideline,” then I’d have absolutely looked to my coworkers for cues.

            3. Anonsie*

              Or petite! Every time someone tells me to just wear “non-jeans pants” and some sort of blouse, I want to scream. Pants. Pants. Pants are the bane of my existence.

              “Just get them tailored!” You shush, you know not of which you speak.

              I would imagine folks in the plus range have similar issues, too.

              1. Jenny*

                OMG Anonsie, I am short AND stout! Pants are also the bane of my existence. Thank God I don’t have to wear blazers to work, because combine my big waist, short stature (sleeves at my knuckles), and small bust (weird hanging darts) (and why do clothes designers always think plus-size women must have large busts?) and I think there are maybe two off-the-rack jackets in the world that might fit me correctly, and I am sure they are in stores on different continents.

                1. Anonsie*

                  I feel your pain. I shelled out $150 to get two blazers that came very close to fitting me already altered before a conference this year, and honestly? The difference is so minimal (there is only so much you can do) that it straight up wasn’t worth it. I still looked like I was wearing a frumpy, ill-fitting jacket. Might as well have done that with the “before” shape.

                  Have you ever tried on pants in a department store and had them get the tailor to see if they could make any of them fit you, and the tailor looks at you for.3 seconds and then slowly shakes her head “no” at the possibility? Because I have, more than once.

                2. Windchime*

                  For the same reason they think that all plus-size women are about 5’4 and need a 30″ inseam. Because tall = skinny and short = stout, amiright?

              2. DMented Kitty*

                This is why I learned how to hem. The hems are always my problem when I find a nice pair of pants.

          2. Parfait*

            I got bit by “wear what everyone around is wearing” one time in a temp job. All the bosses wore jeans every single day. So I wore jeans one day, after I’d been working there a week or so, and the secretary supervising my work gasped and said “Oh no no, WE can’t wear jeans! THEY can, but we can’t!”

            Sigh. You could have mentioned that before. It would never have occurred to me that “dress like the higher ups dress” is not a universally acceptable guideline.

          3. Anonsie*

            You are absolutely correct, but this isn’t always possible. If you’re the only person of your gender or size or age group or in your specific role or whathaveyou, it can be very difficult to take cues off everyone else. Since this is a small organization, I think the odds of that are particularly high. On top of that, norms vary regionally, so equivalencies are sometimes really hard to determine.

            At my very first office job in university, all the other women were not one but two generations older than me. I was new to the region and, though I knew the expectations for what comprised workwear were very different, I didn’t know the specifics yet. I remember coming in my first week and looking around and thinking I had no idea what the equivalent formality was for me, since everyone else was in caftans and knit pants. I had to get time with my boss and ask a lot of really specific questions, but it turned out I wore jeans and tennis shoes every day because my job often involved rooting around in the storage area and getting dirty, which no one else did.

      3. KayDay*

        If you care at all about what employees wear, you do have a dress code, and it’s fine to say so. It’s just an unwritten one. Every office were I have worked has not had a written dress code, but they all have explicitly said, “we dress business casual,” or “the office is generally smart casual, but we do need to dress up on days when we are going to meetings/conferences,” or “we don’t wear jeans, shorts, or sweatshirts, but the office is pretty casual”. People have different experiences, and this guy may have worked at places where that sort of dress is acceptable.

        Second thing is, that if you don’t have a written policy is fine to quickly but kindly tip off employees if their dress isn’t up to par. Something like, “I understand that our dress code is unwritten and very general, but your outfit today was a bit too casual because of xyz. In the future, could you please be sure that abc.”

      4. Not So NewReader*

        There is nothing wrong with speaking up. Most everyone wants to fit in with the new group.
        My husband interviewed for and accepted a new job. He interviewed after work, so he was wearing clothes suitable for Current Job. As part of the conversation to finalize his acceptance of the new job, the boss pointed out that my husband needed to upgrade his wardrobe. My husband was very grateful to be told that before the first day of work. And it gave my husband a clue as to how the boss handles problems. After experiencing all kinds of bosses, this new boss was a delight.

        So, yes, OP, speak up and say it clearly. “We have an unwritten expectation that our employees will dress in xyz manner.” And it might cushion the news if you say. “I should have mentioned this sooner”.

        There’s all kinds of work settings out there, with all different standards. Most people are willing to immediately comply, once they are aware of the standard. But if left unsaid, the employee could feel that s/he is supposed to mind-read and that can be unsettling.

        1. C Average*

          I would love to have eavesdropped on the “you need to upgrade your wardrobe” conversation! It sounds like this conversation went well, but I can think of so many ways a conversation like this could go badly!

          1. Mike B.*

            I’m hoping that NSNR’s husband was wearing casual/business casual attire for his old job and the new boss was simply telling him that the new place required business attire. I’d hate to contemplate a workplace (outside of, say, fashion) that required employees to maintain a high standard of quality in their wardrobe on top of the expected dress code.

            1. Case of the Mondays*

              I have a friend that works for a finance firm and he was firmly told he had to stop wearing lower end suits and purchase more expensive labels. In particular he was told no more Men’s Warehouse or Joseph A. Banks.

                1. Mike B.*

                  And that’s a whole lot of what’s wrong with the world today right there–the people who control the economy will not accept you as a colleague unless you have the trappings of wealth.

                2. Case of the Mondays*

                  He was already very well compensated and they wanted him to start dressing like it. I personally don’t think this is ever appropriate but *shrugs*

                3. Anonsie*

                  I have heard part of the reason finance companies give signing bonuses to young/new employees is specifically so you can buy a higher quality work wardrobe, actually.

              1. Cat*

                It’s not something I’d like, but then, I specifically avoid environments like finance. I feel like if you work in that industry, you’re agreeing to certain norms, one of which is that being rich is important and portraying that to clients is equally important.

          2. Not So NewReader*

            Sorry. The boss said it more tactfully than what I said here. He said, “No x and no y.”
            My husband understood clearly what was expected. We had my husband’s two week notice period to shop some sales and get what he needed. The raise paid for the clothes within the first month he was there. It wasn’t a hardship or a pressing matter, even.
            The surrounding context was the boss was very pleased to be hiring my husband, so the wardrobe conversation was just a minor negative in a stream of compliments. He showed up the first day looking like everyone else. He was so pleased – he felt like he was starting to fit in on the very first day. (My husband was not one to change jobs, so to have this go smoothly was such a relief.)

            1. Simonthegrey*

              Similar. My husband went from working retail to working in an office. In the last meeting with the owner, before finalizing his hiring, the owner told him he would need to get a variety of dress shirts. Husband had been through a two-stage interview and the screening with this man, and he’d noticed that my husband wore the same dress shirt to each of those three events. Husband only had one nice dress shirt – we bought it for a wedding and it was literally all we could afford when we got it, because my husband is also really tall and very broad-shouldered, so most places don’t carry his size. It was said in a no-nonsense but also not patronizing or pitying way, and my husband liked that the owner was straight-forward with him about expectations. We pulled together enough to get him one dress shirt for each day of the week,

      5. Daisy*

        I agree with everyone else. You cannot say “we definitely don’t have a “dress code” at our office” in one breath and then outline your de facto dress code in the next, you’re being confusing. It’s a bit patronising to say it’s a “common sense thing” when it clearly isn’t- as others have pointed out, Tshirts are fine in many offices.

      6. Who are you?*

        I never assume that people have common sense. What’s appropriate for most, doesn’t necessarily translate to all. I would never floss my teeth at my desk, but I sit next to a woman who does. I make sure that any make up I’m wearing is applied at home. This morning I passed a woman on the road who was driving while applying makeup (one eye closed as she put on eyeshadow with a make-up brush!). I’ve worked with women who thought tube tops were appropriate for the work place. (Not just strapless…an actual tube top with no straps and mid-riff baring.)
        If something’s not appropriate then make it a rule and communicate it clearly. Don’t assume that people see the world as you do.

        1. TK*

          My mother has put on foundation, lipstick, and mascara while driving practically every day for as long as I can remember. The rest of my family has yet to convince her that this is a safety hazard.

      7. Anonsie*

        This reminds me of something that happened on Monday. I went straight from work to meet my partner and some of his coworkers for dinner, wearing what I had to work that morning: slacks, low wedge sandals, a patterned knit top and a solid cardigan. When his coworkers saw me, they seemed surprised and one of them was downright shocked. “You’re so dressed up! What did you do today?” I told them that was how I had to dress at work and she said something like “Every day??” They had some other questions about how formal my job is and why I have to wear such nice clothing, which to me is decidedly on the casual end of business casual. These folks are in tech, so everywhere they’ve ever worked is cartoon t-shirts and jeans apparently.

    3. Jen RO*

      In my office (part of a 5000+ people corporation) cartoon t-shirts are perfectly normal. If someone told me that my new job doesn’t have a dress code… I would assume it, well, doesn’t have a dress code, and wear my World of Warcraft t-shirts.

      1. Molly*

        In my office, I can get away with just about anything EXCEPT my World of Warcraft t-shirts. I now have dress-code envy.

      2. m*

        I agree. My boyfriend works at Google and they explicitly told him before his interview not to wear a suit.

          1. fposte*

            Yes, it always amuses me how casual they think they are–as long as you dress exactly like everybody else.

            1. Joel*

              i know how commenters of this blog like to rail on tech companies, but it actually makes sense to be told not to wear a suit. You don’t want to look out of place and you want to look like you at least get part of the culture of the company. The reason that companies like google don’t require people to dress up and provide so many perks/ammenities is that they feel like a happy worker will work produce better work (and the they’ll work longer hours with less complaints). It works for some people and it doesn’t work for other people
              The general rule is to dress .5 to 1 step more formal than the people in the office dress. If it’s a business casual place, wear a suit. If it’s a casual place wear business casual.
              Howard Tullman wrote a pretty good article about why he disagrees with the “wear anything you want including the clothes you slept in last night” office.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          I was told that too–but I wore slacks and a blazer. The team members who interviewed me were wearing jeans and sweatshirts. I wear jeans and a t-shirt every day at work now–because I can. :)

    4. Just Visiting*

      It can also be dependent on the department. At my very first desk job, at a public university, you could wear pajama pants and slippers to work if you wanted. (I didn’t, but I did wear jeans every single day.) When I got another temporary job at the same university, I was publicly dressed down (heh) by someone who was not my manager for going casual and the person pointed out that nobody else in the office dressed casual. Uh… it wasn’t a public-facing role, how was I to know you all didn’t just like dressing up a little, I used to work here on a permanent basis and never encountered this, and we’re now several weeks into my employment? I was mortified all right, but not for myself. Spell it out, precisely. (Although I will go on record that dress codes in roles where you never interact with the public are dumb, just my opinion and I know others will not agree.)

      1. afiendishthingy*

        The strictest dress code I ever had was when I worked for a call center and NOBODY SAW ME. The owners of the company were very conservative – my friend who worked in the corporate office told me there were two huge portraits in the lobby there, one of the founder and one of Pope John Paul II. At the call center we were not allowed to wear earrings larger than a quarter and if we wore a skirt it had to touch our knees when we stood up, because apparently we were Catholic schoolgirls. Most people didn’t care too much about the dress code (since OUR CUSTOMERS COULDN’T SEE US) but of course there had to be one assistant manager who delighted in enforcing dumb policies.

        1. Brittany*

          This must be a call center thing because I worked customer service for an insurance company and they were just as restrictive. It always surprised me because like you said, no one saw me! Then I moved to a start-up where one exec wore bunny slippers to meet with a client. Dress codes are weird.

          1. Livin' in a Box*

            Every call centre I’ve worked at required fancy clothes, despite everyone making minimum wage and being hidden from the customers. It’s just one more way to crush your employees’ morale.

            1. Kelly L.*

              Ugh. The one I worked at was in at least the eighth circle of hell, but at least they let us wear jeans.

              1. Angela*

                I’m in a call center and our written dress code says business casual but no one does it. And I mean no one – including the CEO when he visits. I can usually be found in jeans and a doctor who shirt and I’m in a quasi-management roll. No direct reports, but part of my yearly review is based on my leadership skills.

                1. Kelly L.*

                  The managers at ours did dress up–all of them in a particular shade of cerulean button-down shirt. I’m not sure if they had a rule or if it was just in fashion.

                2. KellyK*

                  Kelly L., I’m thinking they were robots, and the developer who wrote the “fashion sense” portion of the AI code did a lot of copy/pasting.

                3. Natalie*

                  @ Kelly L, that makes me think of Dave Nelson’s blue shirts on Newsradio: “This one is Azure and that one is Lapis… Let’s see, there’s Indigo, Sapphire, Sky, and Standard Blue.”

            2. MaryMary*

              On the flip side, I used to work at a company that had a large call center. The dress code for all employees was business casual. We used to hire temporary call center employees for our busy season, and some of the temp’s interpretations of business casual were amazing. My personal favorite was the gentleman who wore overalls and steel toed boots, but there were lots of sweatsuits (with and without words written on the butt), yoga pants, bare midriffs, and cleavage (and bra-less cleavage). Our favorite part of the busy season was seeing some of the outfits the temps thought were workplace appropriate.

          2. Nancie*

            Maybe the exec knew the client was a huge fan of Real Genius?

            And if the exec was male, I *need* to know where he got the bunny slippers. My ex has been looking for a pair for decades!

          3. Anoners*

            Yeah, there reasoning is always “even though you aren’t seen, dressing professionally comes accross in your voice over the phone”, which, is just … ridiculous? Call Centers love that kind of reasoning though.

        2. Contessa*

          The call center I worked in had similar, super serious, dress code requirements–but they were poorly written, and none of the bosses understood them. For example, one said, “no sleeveless shirts that bare the midriff or halter tops.” I wore black pants with different shirts every day, and one day, I wore a sleeveless shell with a cardigan over it. It got hot, so I took off the cardigan, and immediately one of the supervisors swooped in and told me I was violating the dress code because I was wearing a sleeveless shirt. I pulled out my copy and showed her that it clearly stated only midriff-baring sleeveless shirts were banned, but she kept telling me I was wrong. The whole thing was absurd, but I couldn’t get fired, so I just put my cardigan back on. Meanwhile, her friends were wearing sleeveless dresses every day.

          If it weren’t for the crazy boss and the annoying co-workers, I actually would have liked that job. I was on email customer service, which was a relaxing kind of tedious.

    5. Perpetua*

      Yup, there was a good discussion somewhat recently on AAM how “no dress code” is basically never true. T-shirts might be perfectly fine, but pajamas or swimsuits will probably be frowned upon. :P Even in the other direction, wearing a full suit to a “no dress code” office filled with employees in hoodies and jeans will probably raise some eyebrows and make the new colleague stand out in a possibly unwanted way. I’m not saying that everybody should dress exactly the same, sometimes people want to do their thing and that’s okay, but I think it’s better if it is made clear what is common/uncommon, even more if some things are just implicitly seriously expected.

      1. HM in Atlanta*

        This! I love suits – a jacket with a sharply pressed shirt is one of my favorite things. Where I work now – usually fine. Where I worked before – I would have gotten the side-eye.

    6. KellyK*

      Ooh, very good call. You may not have a *written* dress code, but if jeans and t-shirts aren’t okay, then you do have a dress code.

    7. NK*

      Formal dress code or not, if someone is wearing clothing that is clearly out of the norm for that office (assuming that the interviewee saw people in the office during the interview process, and we know at the very least they saw the interviewer), to me that shows poor judgment and poor ability to assess a situation. And that applies both to wearing jeans and graphic tees in a more upscale office as well as wearing a suit and tie in a casual office (though I’d be much more forgiving of the latter in the first day/week of the job).

      1. Cassie*

        But if no one has said anything to this employee yet, he (and maybe others) figure “oh, it must mean it’s okay”. Just because no one else is wearing similar clothes doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not allowed – it just means no one else does it… yet. It’s possible others would start dressing more casually if they saw other staffers dressed casually.

    8. ella*

      Would it be practical or positive to fold the dress code discussion into a broader but informal, “You’ve been here two weeks, I wanted to give you some feedback on how things are going” discussion? Not to make things up if you’ve honestly got no other feedback for the guy, but I had one manager who gave me some general feedback about two weeks into a job, and I found it really helpful to know how I was doing and how I was being perceived.

      I just re-read the letter and the fact that he’s still in his first week makes it harder, and I understand that you need to address the dress code thing ASAP. But he’s fresh out of college and probably feeling at least some degree of uncertainty. Waiting thirty days or six weeks or whatever for a first official review can seem like an eternity.

      1. ella*

        I’m also wondering, since this is his first professional job, if he doesn’t HAVE a professional/business casual wardrobe yet. I know you said he dressed formally for his interview, but if that’s his only nice set of clothes, he may be (understandably) balking at wearing the same clothes for two straight weeks until he gets a paycheck and can update.

        1. Observer*

          The truth is that you can get some decent looking clothes, that might pass for “business casual” for very little, if you are within normal size range. They aren’t really good quality, so I probably wouldn’t get a lot of them, but for the first few weeks on the job, they would very probably be adequate. Depending on where you shop, $50-75 will do it. And, yes, I understand that some people can’t lay that out till they get that first check, but in a job that requires a college education, I think it’s not so outlandish to bring it up.

          Of course if the LW has a conversation and the new hire says “Yeah, as soon as I get a paycheck I’m going to get some decent clothes” I’d leave it. I’m sure the place will manage till that happens.

          1. rory*

            Please let me know where it’s possible to buy things like this! I’m in “normal size range”, and $50, if I’m lucky, might buy me one business-casual-appropriate shirt.

            1. April*

              Observer is right. You can’t get anything high quality, but you can certainly get stop-gap things that are much better looking than jeans and a t-shirt. Walmart, Target, those sorts of places do sell slacks, dress shirts, polos. If you have time on your hands you could spend far less than even than the $50-$75 that Observer quotes if you are willing to comb the racks at places like Goodwill or the American Kidney Fund stores. Some might feel that’s beneath them (but then, some feel Walmart’s beneath them), but they needn’t; I know well-to-do people who go “thrifting” as a hobby and get really excited about their “finds.”

              1. anonymous*

                One of the nicest things someone did for me when I got my professional degree and moved from a clerk-type position (jeans and t-shirt acceptable) to a professional job in the same industry was to go with me to a department store and help me figure out how to navigate clothes I could afford that would be professional. She was not a mentor per se but that was incredibly thoughtful and helpful.

        2. dahllaz*

          I borrowed a suit from my mom for the interview for my current job. He could have done something like that as well.

    9. Gene*

      Ah, the joy of having auniform to wear! Rental cotton pants or reimbursed jeans, long-sleeve denim shirt embroidered with the logo over a t-shirt with same embroidery, steel toe shoes. Hard hat and high-vis vest when playing in traffic.

      1. cuppa*

        My husband works in a hospital, and sometimes I get really jealous that he wears scrubs every day. No thought about what you are going to wear, and can be comfortable, too!

        1. Eden*

          I wore navy blue scrubs every day for 13 years. My new workplace dress code is business casual. The irony is, I have trouble getting dressed for work now, because I feel like I wear the same thing all the time.

          I think I need more work-appropriate clothes!

        2. AdminAnon*

          My best friend is an SLP at a hospital and she gets to wear scrubs every day too. I get so jealous sometimes.

    10. A Teacher*

      I teach in a public school system where the staff has “no dress code” and its worded in our contract that way. Two contracts ago they went on a hard pay freeze so they negotiated “no dress code.” What’s funny is that in the elementary and junior high buildings the students wear uniforms. I’m at one of the high schools so the students have a dress code that’s not strict and no uniforms. Most teachers still dress in “business casual” but one of the best things is that during Illinois winters, I can wear skinny jeans with boots and a long sweater and no one cares. Other teachers I’m friends with talk about “jeans Friday” and I say, “yep, I wear them whenever I want.” They can’t believe it.

    11. Tinker*

      As it happens, I was wearing jeans and my Warrior Dash T-shirt to the office yesterday. It happens.

      The other thing I’d say is to not state one’s preferences with regard to clothing in a derogatory way — if you don’t want jeans in the office, that’s fine (well, it’s not fine, but it’s a fair sort of not fine). But the description of that is “we don’t wear jeans”, not “don’t dress like a slob”. Even if you do think that something is objectively Not The Right Way To Do It Ever, if you encounter one of the fools who think differently you’ll probably have more success if you bite your tongue about the judgment part.

      This is particularly true when dealing with people who can be expected to come from different backgrounds — this site, for instance, which has an international audience that spans essentially the entire formality spectrum — but it’s also true on the one-on-one level. It helps to keep an ego battle out of the way when it’s not “you’re wrong” but rather “we want different”. It’s also kinder to folks who may have a legitimate reason to have a different understanding (someone from the western US who understands “business casual” to include jeans) or lack of understanding (a person with an ASD to whom “obvious indirect cues” is an oxymoron).

      If the pitfall isn’t worth filling in, considering the totality of the circumstances, that’s fair. But put a ladder in the bottom, not punji stakes.

      1. Just Visiting*

        All of this. I’m not on the autism spectrum, but I AM incredibly uninterested in clothing. I’m also quite unfeminine, and even at the anything-goes casual office I worked at, I was the only woman who never wore blouses or non-sneakers. (The women wore tees and sneakers sometimes, but not consistently, and most of them wore makeup. The men, and me, wore nothing but casual.) So at the office I worked at where I was insulted for dressing casual, which was all women, I felt like I was being singled out for not being like the other women and caring about fashion. If they’d laid out some clear “don’ts” right away, like no jeans (but pants are okay), that would have been just fine. But instead it came across as “women should know better than to dress like that, have some respect for yourself.” And that just doesn’t play.

        1. Vicki*

          I worked in the programming department of a large financial services corporation. We never had clients on our floor.

          Our floor admin was Very good at her job. She also dressed… well… the company was in San Francisco and she did not look out of place when walking down the street, but it wasn’t quite the “norm” for a “financial services company” as far as some people were concerned.

          She told me that, occasionally, someone would remark on her clothing. She would then remind that person that it would not be difficult to find another admin job in SF and, if they wanted to fight that battle, she didn’t have to work there.

          Did I say that she was very good at her job?

          OP #3 – What does this employee do?
          Ask yourself why you consider his choice of attire is “unprofessional”?
          Ask yourself if the problem is his… or yours.

      2. Vicki*

        At an interview I had a year ago, one of the interviewers wore slacks and a button down shirt. He was a project manager.

        Another interviewer wore jeans and a t0shirt with a band’s name (or something like that) on it. He was the Director of Engineering.

    12. Vicki*

      Exactly my thought.

      AAM responded: “Talk to him ASAP — as in today — … Take him aside at the end of the day and say something like, “I wanted to talk to you about our dress code.”

      But the letter says “While we definitely don’t have a “dress code” at our office – business casual is the norm.”

      No wonder the employee doesn’t know! He’s working at a place with a secret “dress code”.

      The “norm” is not a dress code. If you want to have a dress code, publish a dress code. Don’t just say “We don’t want you wearing a t-shirt because most of our employees where button-down Oxford shirts”. If you’re going to single this guy out, (and honestly, I’m trying to understand why you care) you need more than a vague “norm”.

      1. Just Visiting*

        Hear, hear!

        Also, considering that “no dress code” is an extremely desirable perk for many people, one that some of us would even take a small pay cut to have, I think it’s rather shitty to deceive an interviewee by saying you don’t have one when you absolutely do. I’m sure it wasn’t deliberate deception (cue image of evil manager rubbing hands together saying “haha, now we’re going to crush his spirit with khakis and button down shirts”), but it’s still misrepresenting the position.

        1. Anonsie*

          I certainly would take a small pay cut for it, considering how very much money I have to dump into even a low-level business casual wardrobe.

  4. Gene*

    They can tell you not to use the side exits, but if they are ever locked, document it and file a complaint with OSHA. Be sure to use the key phrase, “Imminent danger.” They take locked exits very seriously and the fines are frequently six figures.

    When I inspect businesses for things unrelated to safety, this is something that I have to call in if I see it.

    1. Student*

      I wish I knew about this when I went to grad school. My office building had one of those completely enclosed interior courtyards, and some moron decided to put automatic locks on all of the doors to the courtyard so that you had to “swipe in” with a card if you were in the courtyard and wanted to get back inside the building. If you left your card at your desk and went to the courtyard, you’d be stuck there until someone came to save you. In a fire, it’d be a deathtrap. I could never find an appropriate “safety” person to contact about it.

      1. fposte*

        My grad school library manually checked every book in your possession as you exited through the front. They insisted on doing it when a fire alarm went off and got in almighty trouble from the fire department, as well they ought.

        1. Rat Racer*

          That is TOO funny! “All right everyone, this is an emergency – the building is on fire! Everyone wait in a half hour long line while we check to make sure you’re not smuggling anything out of the library.” Thank goodness it was just a drill!

              1. Another J*

                Years ago, I had to check people’s bags when they were entering and exiting the library while our security system was being worked on. I was very surprised at how many people carried bottles of vodka, illegal drugs, etc., in their backpacks. It was in the main academic library on campus and I still am amazed over it. I wasn’t told to confiscate anything other than unchecked out material so I just smiled and told them to have a good day.

                1. Anonsie*

                  That’s hilarious. Just stopping by the library to cram a little before a big bender?

                  Though in college I walked everywhere and didn’t have a lot of time, so there were definitely instances where I went to the store and then had to carry my shopping to a meeting and two classes or needed to give someone their birthday present at 8pm so I had to tote it around starting when I left at 7:30 that morning because I wouldn’t get the chance to go home again.

          1. ella*

            It is amazing the power that routine and habit has over our monkey brains. One of my college professors had us examine the fire that happened at The Station nightclub during a Great White show. One of the problems that aggravated the crush of people at the front door is that there was a bouncer who’d been assigned to the hallway that led to the back door (where bands loaded in) and the dressing room. He’d been told to keep fans out of the dressing room and away from the band, and so he did that, even when fire was clearly consuming the building. His brain just couldn’t switch gears into “Nobody cares about the dressing room, EVERYBODY OUT.” I’m pretty sure he was one of the ones who died.

        2. Laura*

          Wait…if there’s actually a fire in a library, wouldn’t you almost hope they *were* carrying some of your books out as they went? :P

        3. Observer*

          What?! They think your soul is going to fry for eternity for walking out with an unchecked book during a fire? (I’m only half kidding here – some of you may remember the fire where girls were shoved back into a burning building for much the same reason, except it was burqas not library books.)

          I’m glad the fire department came down on them.

            1. Jazzy Red*

              I would try to save the book I was reading (because I wouldn’t be able to save all the books in the library).

      2. Know-it-Some*

        Your friendly local fire marshal is a great person to contact about this. Looking up “your city” + “fire marshal” should lead you to the appropriate contact process.

    2. Observer*

      They definitely do. But, if the locks are automatic and are set to “fail safe” (ie fail to unlocked if there is no power) that’s considered safe.

    3. Anonymous*

      Thanks! I’ll have to check and see once this goes “live”. No one could seem to give me an exact answer as to whether or not they would always be unlocked or if someone or something was in place to unlock in an emergency. It’s amazing when your own HR department can’t answer you!

  5. Jessa*

    Yeh, they can prohibit using side exits, and even put alarms on them that go off loudly if you try, but they cannot ever make them un-openable from the inside of the building while there are people inside, not only OSHA but the local Fire Department Marshal will be really ticked off with them and there will be fines at both the OSHA level and the local level. People die when doors cannot be opened.

    1. Sigrid*

      Yes exactly — it all depends on what they mean by ‘you can’t use the side exits’. You’re not allowed to, fine. They’re alarmed, fine. They are physically locked, not fine.

      1. Sigrid*

        I should be clear — it’s physically locked from the inside that’s not fine. Physically locked from the outside, meaning you can’t get in at all or need to swipe your key card to open the door, is fine. Fire safety rules care about whether you can escape from a burning building, not whether it’s more convenient to use a particular entrance when walking from your car.

      2. Anonymous*

        Totally agree. When I asked about it I simply got “all exits will be unlocked in an emergency” but who knows what that means. They should be unlocked at all times from the inside but no one could tell me how this works!

  6. afiendishthingy*

    #5 -I read it as “we will keep the side doors unlocked from the inside and you may use them only to exit in an emergency”, since the letter also said they would be disciplined for using the side doors without permission. That implied to me it was possible to sneak out.

    I wonder if they will relax after time? Has there been any recent event to precipitate the change in policy? I worked in a public school and after the Newtown shooting they got wayyyy stricter about side doors, which was a pain because the front door was not very convenient to the parking lot (which I suspect is the OP’s primary objection). By the end of the last school year, though, it had gotten much easier to prop doors slightly open if you were taking a class outside for a period. I don’t work there anymore but pretty sure I could sneak in pretty easily at this point, knowing which doors tend to be the slightest bit ajar at what times. It’s possible your company may not stay so rigid with their rules.

    1. LQ*

      I strongly agree with the first part. The fact that they say you can be disciplined says you can use them. You can’t be disciplined if the door is locked. I think people are focusing on the wrong thing here.

      It is perfectly reasonable to expect employees to badge in. I have just 2 ways to get into my building. (I do have a nearly a dozen to leave which I appreciate.) And honestly? I’m glad for it, there is a lot of private data in the building, I don’t want people randomly able to wander in through a back door.

      This isn’t violating anything, it’s just making is mildly inconvenient.

      1. Observer*

        And, in a lot of places, you also don’t want that data to be able to wander out, either. Which is another reason for limiting the use of back doors.

    2. Observer*

      In NYC public schools, there has been a push to alarm side doors – kids have left school when they shouldn’t. That’s bad enough when it’s a neuro-typical kid who is just playing hooky. When it’s, say an autistic “runner” that can get quite problematic. (These are kids with fairly severe autism who have a tendency to run away without the ability to take care of themselves.) There has been at least one death related to this in the last school year, and I seem to recall a couple of other incidents like this.

      1. Jazzy Red*

        Yes, locking the doors from the outside and having an alarm on the inside is usually for the protection of the people (children, if it’s a school) inside the building.

  7. Andrew*

    Knowing who is and isn’t in the building in case of an emergency may be helpful. Going out the side doors may prevent them from knowing if you are still in the building or not if they need to find you. It may be part of a new safety procedure.

    1. neverjaunty*

      “Being trapped in the building” is a much bigger problem than “not knowing exactly who is in the building”. As for the latter, that’s why you have safety plans and fire drills.

      1. Elizabeth the Ginger*

        They’re only trapped if the doors are actually locked, though, and as discussed above, that might not be the case – they might be unlocked but trigger alarms, or be unlocked but using them regularly in non-emergencies. will get you reprimanded.

        The latter is the case at my workplace. I’m not trapped in my building, but I’m supposed to use the main entrance to come and go instead of the door that connects my classroom to the street. Depending on where I park that sometimes means a little extra walking… if I get tempted to feel annoyed by that, I just think about my Fitbit racking up more steps!

    2. Elizabeth West*

      But the solution for that would be to assign people prearranged meeting places and practice evacuation drills with these guidelines in mind. At Exjob, we were supposed to get out the closest exit, but then everyone was supposed to meet across the cul-de-sac at the mailbox. Woe to your ass if you weren’t there during a drill. And because it was a wood shop (thus very dangerous in a fire because dust), it was emphasized that proper evac was VERY important.

      The practice is the most important part. People are less likely to panic if they already know what they’re supposed to do.

      1. doreen*

        “But the solution for that would be to assign people prearranged meeting places and practice evacuation drills with these guidelines in mind.” This doesn’t solve the problem of knowing who was in the building at the time the emergency happened. The issue is not going out the side door during the emergency- it’s people having left before the emergency without any sort of record of them leaving. My current office has people going in and out all the time (it’s part of the job) but there is no record of who is in or out- no sign in/out sheet, no swiping to get out, not one of those boards with the pegs or tags that move from “In” to “Out”. People often don’t even let their supervisors know when they are leaving the building. Nothing. So when we meet at the prearranged point and Wakeen is missing although he was in the office earlier, no one knows if he went to lunch a little early, ran out to his car or to the store,didn’t hear the alarm, etc. Which is not a big deal when it’s a drill, but if it was a real fire, it’s also possible that he could be in the building overcome by smoke or otherwise trapped. Which means the fire department is going to look for him because he’s not “present and accounted for”

  8. Chriama*

    OP5 – I don’t see why they can’t install keycard access at the side exits as well as the front (my company does this). Regardless, I would just verify that they aren’t actually locking the doors (safety issue as others have mentioned — all doors should be openable from the inside) and then request side-door authorization for myself. What else can you do? I don’t think it’s an inherently bad policy, and it sounds like they have reasons for wanting it that way.

    1. Cari*

      If they were to say costs is a factor, and they’re locking the doors, it sounds like key card installation could be cheaper than getting fined – worth looking into that OP #5, if you end up querying their decision. Although, if they were locking the doors it would be hard to remain anonymous if you already gave your employers a heads-up about that and then reported them…

      1. Liane*

        That won’t solve the safety problems. Keycards mean electronic locks &, as a couple people above mentioned, those often fail in fires & other emergencies.

          1. Jess*

            I would like to add to the conversation on locked doors that there is a method to use to keep them locked both ways that is fire code friendly. Electro-magnets.

            with this method the magnet holds the door closed as long as there is power going to it. They can be tied into the emergency systems to have their power cut automatically, there can be a manual kill switch, a badge or button to exit, and in a catastrophe where power fails the magnet dies and the door is unlocked.

            My building uses this for the single exit that we have and after 6 pm the door is locked both ways and you need to keycard in and button out, except in an emergency where they are just open (the magnets are turned off during the day.

            1. Natalie*

              Those fire doors that automatically close during an alarm work the same way. You could always tell the power had gone out at my dorm because all the fire doors would slam shut at about the same time.

              1. Jess*

                Ah Yes, I had forgotten of the existence of those! It had been a while since I have been in a building with them.

                1. Elizabeth the Ginger*

                  I teach, and there’s an elevator next to my classroom door with one of those auto-closing doors that covers it if the power goes off (so people won’t try to use it in an emergency). Sometimes the kids bump against it and jiggle the magnet, making it close. They always shriek, as they are CONVINCED that that stairwell is haunted and that the door closing is caused by the ghost!

            2. Laura*

              There can also be a motion detector! We have these at work, and when they’re powered and anyone from the inside approaches the front doors, they unlock for several seconds.

              There’s also a button in case they don’t, but the motion detector works really well. (So well that most of us have changed routes so we don’t unlock the doors on our way to talk with the boss.)

              1. Jess*

                With electro mag doors there are often or typically buttons that kill the power to the magnet thus releasing the door. You could call them a panic button.

                1. Jessa*

                  Yes but a button could be hard to see in a smoke filled room, the panic bar is a much safer thing and I’d argue for them because you don’t have to be able to see or be non panicked enough to actually find a button.

    2. Observer*

      A lot depends on the system in use. This stuff can get expensive very quickly. And sometimes adding the one additional door can trigger a whole cascade of expenses. So, while a basic alarm can cost as little as$150, adding keycard access at the door could wind up costing in the low 5 figures because you also have to upgrade a bunch of other equipment.

  9. James M*

    #5: Would you, and as many coworkers as you can muster, be willing to lobby for free use of that one convenient door?

  10. Lurker*

    #5 — most places I’ve worked (e.g. museums) required employees to enter/exit through only one door and swipe in/out. We also had our bags checked every night when we left. Making sure every one has to swipe in/out would make it easier to keep track of who was in the building in case of emergency.

    1. The IT Manager*

      Just “YES!” Assuming that its not a safety issue (which frankly the LW did not seem too concerned about), this is a completely reasonable policy – enter and exit through a main door and badge in and out. And the LW’s main concern, that now she has longer walk to the car, makes the question seem silly to me.

      The same thing happened to me when my office alarmed the side doors. They were always locked from the outside, but previously you could exit without setting off alarms. I just made a mental note that I would have to take the main entrance which was not quite as close to my car from now on.

    2. CL*

      It also helps track who is in the building when you are looking for someone! It is is so annoying to spend time trying to track someone down who left an hour early or is out at a doctor’s appt that you you didn’t know about. Additionally, it can be used to verify work time in case of a dispute, which I suspect is as likely a reason as the emergency reason.

  11. Katie the Fed*

    #3 – this really doesn’t have to be a big to-do. I’ve had this conversation more times than I care to remember, from women dressing in low-cut halter tops, to guys showing up in flip flops and jeans. It’s usually a 10 second conversation – hey Boutros, jeans aren’t ok in this office environment. You’ll need to be in slacks and a collared shirt. Thanks!”

    1. TotesMaGoats*

      Yeah, it’s really not a big conversation. I had an employee who was an internal transfer from our main campus. They did jeans on Fridays. We didn’t. We also didn’t know that they did jeans on Fridays. So imagine my surprise when on her first Friday, she shows up in jeans. It was a quiet, quick word that we only do jeans for special occasions and moving on. I did apologize for not clarifying the dress code with her ahead of time.

      On the other hand I had a new employee I had to brow beat into casual Friday and wearing jeans. His previous office never did and I think he didn’t believe me until we all showed up in jeans his first Friday and he was in slacks. Good natured ribbing all day and he wore jeans the next week. :)

      1. LQ*

        I think it is weird to require people to wear jeans on Fridays. If someone wants to wear slacks that should be fine…

        1. TotesMaGoats*

          Although I’m fine with being considered weird by complete strangers on the internet, let me clarify. He was on board with casual Fridays but at first didn’t believe us that we really wore jeans. Also note…”good natured” and smiley face emoticon.

          1. LQ*

            I understand, I also though had coworkers who (they would say was also good natured and with smiley emoticons) teased me for the first few weeks of work about not wearing jeans on Friday. (For me the problem was that I didn’t have any work appropriate jeans to wear, I’d invested my clothing budget on some nice clothes to wear the other 4 days of the week, so it really sucked when they’d tease me every Friday, and then for the first few after that. Even though it was “all in good fun”. They didn’t mean anything bad by it at all I know. But intentions and all that.)

            1. Diet Coke Addict*

              This has happened to me, too, for a slightly different reason–no one told me Fridays were casual for the first or second week, and things in the office were crazy enough that I honestly hadn’t noticed. Cue “good-natured teasing” about not wearing jeans on Friday, and you have a setup for a new employee going “ha ha….ha….okay…” while others had the best of intentions.

            2. neverjaunty*

              Um, yeah, I think weeks of teasing someone new falls off the category of ‘good intentions’ and into ‘jerkface’ territory.

            3. Laura*

              I’m so glad I’ve never worked in a place that would tease you for not wearing jeans. I hate the things. Denim is a very uncomfortable fabric, in my experience. I wouldn’t be wearing them unless they were mandated, and the teasing would make me hideously uncomfortable.

              1. OhNo*

                Yeah, I don’t wear jeans either, so any kind of ribbing about not conforming to the jean-wearing would put me off.

                Casual Friday should mean you can wear something more comfortable and relaxed – it shouldn’t mean you are required to conform to the “casual Friday dress code”.

                1. Felicia*

                  Forcing people to wear something in particular seems so contrary to the purpose of casual Friday.

              2. Emily, admin extraordinaire*

                In general, I agree! I’ve had a few pairs of really comfortable jeans, but I actually prefer my business slacks to jeans in most cases. Much less binding around the waist, much softer fabric.

              3. Cari*

                If you are ever forced to wear jeans, I’ve found Levi’s fabric way softer inside than any others. They’re quite pricey where I am though, so have had to keep my fingers crossed when sifting through the racks at TK Maxx…

                1. Judy*

                  Are you in Poland? I noticed TK Maxx there. With a logo that looks exactly like TJ Maxx in the US. Didn’t go into the store to see if it matched inside or not.

                2. fposte*

                  It’s T K Maxx in the UK and Europe; T J Maxx in the U.S.

                  Wow, that starts to look funny. Maxx Maxx Maxx

            4. Gene*

              I don’t even own a pair of jeans. And I sure as heck wouldn’t buy some just to fit in on Fridays.

              But as I said above, not a problem for me.

          2. TotesMaGoats*

            I guess I’ll just close with: this was a instance in my department at my company which was fine in this environment. YMMV at your own place of employment and I’m sorry that you all felt the teasing in your situation may have gone too far. This was not the case in my situation.

          3. MaryMary*

            I worked in an office that was causal/jeans everyday. You did get raised eyebrows and some ribbing if you came in “dressed up.” I’m single, so anytime I wore a dress there was teasing about what my post-work plans were. There were also jokes about interviewing whenever someone wore a suit or shirt and tie, although people backed off after one guy replied that he was going to a funeral, not a job interview.

            1. TK*

              Ha. My sister-in-law had the funeral situation last summer when my grandfather died. Her office was a jeans and tshirts all the time sort of place, and she went into work for a couple hours in the morning before the funeral. She told her co-workers about the situation the day before so they wouldn’t rib her for coming to work in a little black dress, because she knew she’d never hear the end of it otherwise.

            2. KellyK*

              There were also jokes about interviewing whenever someone wore a suit or shirt and tie, although people backed off after one guy replied that he was going to a funeral, not a job interview.

              Ouch. When I was teaching middle school, we had some themed jeans days. The “Think Spring” day was my grandmother’s funeral, and I showed up, in black, long enough to drop off lesson plans for the sub. One of my coworkers said, “You didn’t think spring,” and seemed kind of embarrassed when I told her I was going to a funeral. (I wasn’t upset by the comment or anything—she didn’t know.)

        2. Felicia*

          I hate wearing jeans. I prefer skirts. I used to work somewhere where the manager tried to pressure people into wearing jeans on Fridays even though I didn’t want to.

  12. BRR*

    #2 I would also make sure that even if it’s legal to dock you (which is dumb, it’s the cost of doing business and all restaurants don’t do it) it’s probably illegal if it drops your pay below minimum wage.

    #5 I don’t think it’s really that unreasonable to want to monitor who is in and out of an office building. But I would ask for clarification on the side doors being locked (which includes NOT having someone unlock them in case of an emergency). If it just adds a minute or two to the walk to your car I wouldn’t pick this hill to die on.

  13. ExceptionToTheRule*

    #5 – I was on a committee that did a security review of our building after we had a security incident. What they’re asking for is a pretty typical scenario that’s suggested by security professionals that is designed to provide an accurate count of who would be in the building if an emergency (such as an intruder or fire) took place. Since the cost of additional card readers can be a capital expense for some companies, it could be a stop gap measure until they can budget for securing the rest of the doors. These types of policies are a direct result of workplace shootings and 9/11 when many companies began to realize they had no idea who was actually in their building.

    I’m not saying this is a perfect or correct solution, I’m just telling you what I learned from the review process we went through.

    1. Sharon*

      I understand what you’re saying here, but I have a quibble. I’ve worked for many places where we had to badge into the building. But never have to badge OUT. From the computer records, they know when we arrive, but not when we leave. Ergo, they don’t really have a clue if we’re still there or not!

      1. ExceptionToTheRule*

        Well, that was the logical fallacy that I thought of as well since our door system works the same way you’re familiar with, but that’s rational the security guy explained to us.

        1. Lora*

          Perhaps the notion is, if you never badged in, therefore you cannot have badged out? And they do headcount at a muster point based on who badged in? Which is total nonsense because people will ALWAYS hold doors for each other no matter how many times you scold them not to. And if a fire happens at 4:59 PM, there’s people who left already, always, who you’ll think are still in the building but in fact left.

          What aggravated me was a job where we were specifically told to use only the back door, and that we would be disciplined for using the front door. The front door with the nice lobby and sculptures and whatnot was for the C-levels and investors and Board of Directors. Those of us who actually made the company’s products and profits were relegated to the depressing tiny cinderblock hallway back door, because we were all jeans-and-sneakers-wearing peasants.

          This ended when my boss told us to use any door we damn well pleased and that it was a stupid rule and anyone who complained could go to heck. The investors toured the labs and pilot plants and such weekly–it wasn’t like they never saw us in our jeans and hard hats and safety goggles.

          TL;DR, people are weird.

          1. TK*

            I’ve heard that when my department moved into a new building, a few years before I came, there was a push to have staff use the back door only– the front door being reserved for the public (we’re a public-service based institution).

            But… we’re a state government agency in the Deep South. Apparently someone pointed out that such a policy might read to the public as telling “the help” to only use the back door, which might would be a little awkward given the historical context. So we’re free to come in the front. (Plenty of people still use the back door, which is staff-only, because it’s legitimately closer to where they park and/or where their office is. But no one’s required to.)

      2. Jazzy Red*

        The home office of the World’s Largest Retailer requires associates (all of them) to swipe in and out, every single time. The managers get a report every week and will talk to an associate who piggybacked in or out, if they haven’t already mentioned it to the manager. Most managers are understanding about this, and they appreciate the heads up before the reports are sent. However, if you do it too many times, you get coached.

  14. Illini02*

    Dress code can be tough to navigate. Did he possible come in for an interview on casual Friday where everyone else was dressed down a bit? Also, the Saturday thing, I will say in many jobs I’ve had, the optional Saturday things were far more casual than other days. But, at some point, he should also have some self awareness that he is the most casual person there.

    Also, one thing with dress code if the company does decide to make a more official policy, make sure its equal for men and women. I remember I had a job once where I wore flip flops in (it was casual Friday) and they told me I couldn’t. When I brought up all of the women who were doing it, they said theirs were “dress” sandals. Essentially theirs had a flower while mine were plain, and that was the difference. Completely unfair. Also, I’ve had jobs where guys had to wear a tie, where the women could essentially wear “nice” t-shirts. Ridiculous.

    1. Cari*

      To be fair, there is a difference between sandals and flipflops (so were they actually trying to pass off decorated flipflops as sandals?), and you can get tidy sandals for men that look nowhere near as casual as flipflops (and are more secure on your feet) – would they have let you wear them?
      I’m with you on the equality thing though, men don’t seem to have many options at all for office wear when it comes to smart casual settings. It’s pretty much shirt, tie and trousers or get told off.

      1. KellyK*

        Really? Once you’re requiring a tie, that’s no longer most people’s definition of “business casual” or “smart casual.” To me, business casual for guys means anything from khakis and a polo shirt up through shirt and tie, but not a full suit.

        You’re right that it’s much more flexible for women than for men, which isn’t cool. (Though the silver lining of having fewer choices is that it’s very clear what’s appropriate. Women’s clothing doesn’t break down as neatly into the different levels of formality.)

          1. Windchime*

            Yep, same here. We are business casual and that’s what most guys wear. There is one guy that doesn’t wear a collar on his shirts, but his t-shirts aren’t raggedly old things, or the type of shirt you’d wear to the gym. They’re “dressier” t-shirts, if such a thing exists.

      2. illini02*

        To your question, yes, the women I was referring to were wearing flip flops with a flower and passing them off as “dress sandals”. Its not like I was wearing my Tevas I’d wear to the beach. They were leather. Granted, they were still flip flops and not the cover the whole foot sandal. I’d be fine with that rule of no flip flops if it was enforced equally.

        1. Lisa*

          But there is a diff in black leather flip flops and lime green foam ones that are from a $1 store. Mostly I think its really just about noise and the flip flop sound that people care about than the style.

          1. Nina*

            I agree. I’ve seen fancier versions that aren’t allowed because they’re still flip flops and they still make that annoying sound.

          2. Anonsie*

            Yeah there are leather flip-flips and then there are thick-soled sandals that have a thong shape, but don’t go fwak fwak fwak down the hallway. It would make sense to me why the former would be prohibited and the latter would not be.

        2. The Cosmic Avenger*

          You should have taped an origami flower to the flip flops and said fine, now they’re dress sandals. :D

      3. Mimmy*

        What about polos or button downs that can be worn without a tie? That’s what I’ve seen in more casual environments.

        1. Mimmy*

          The Kelly’s beat me to it! *sigh* one of these days I’ll learn to hit “refresh” before posting :/

  15. Oryx*

    Oh dress codes. I once interviewed for a job at a call center where everyone was sitting at desks and the only people I saw where the manager who interviewed me and the gal who came to get me from the front. The manager was in a long skirt and basic solid colored shirt while the woman who picked me up was in a full on track suit. Pink, if I recall. So, great, I’m like it’s a call center, nobody sees us, they clearly have a more relaxed dress code and I showed up on the first day in jeans. Nope. Jeans were not allowed and I was *mortified* (my supervisor also waited until the end of the day to tell me and I do appreciate that). After I’d been there for a couple of years, we employees sat down with our managers to discuss the “no jeans” rule and the woman who constantly wore sweats no longer worked there but we pointed out the illogical attitude that she was allowed to wear that and we couldn’t wear jeans with a nice blouse and heels. Luckily they saw our way and we were allowed to wear jeans if we still dressed it up a bit.

    Saying “cartoon t-shirts are inappropriate” is a rule so it sounds like #3 actually DOES have a dress code, just an unwritten one, but it still exists. I am curious if there was any reason why the employee in question thought it might be okay to wear jeans and a cartoon shirt prior to the start of their first day. Were there maybe clues he saw and misread as part of the dress code culture? Also, this is also going to depend on the business, but going more casual on the weekends is common in certain fields especially if it’s an optional thing and he wasn’t required to be there that day.

    1. KerryOwl*

      I don’t think the new employee wore a T-shirt on his very first day, just that this letter was written during his first week: since he started on Monday has come into the office in a cartoon t-shirt and jeans, as one example

      1. Red Librarian*

        Okay, so maybe he didn’t dress super casual on his first day but did he see something that led him to believe it would be okay to do so later in the week?

  16. Colette*

    #1 – OP, I’m concerned that you are focusing on writing a rebuttal and about the lack of confidentiality. If there’s something factually wrong (e.g. “I clocked in at 11:15 on Tuesday because I was attending an offsite meeting that ended at 11”) then address it, but otherwise I suggest you focus on improving in the areas they’ve identified, whether you feel the feedback is fair or not. If you focus on things like whether you had been previously coached on those areas or not, you’re going to miss the chance to improve.

    1. LBK*

      Agreed 100%. If there are factual errors, those are fine to correct, but if there’s anything that could be remotely subjective, just focus on changing it rather than documenting your version of it. It comes off as extremely petty and ignores the real issue, which is that your manager perceives you as underperforming.

      When it comes down to it, your manager has already issued the PIP as it stands – if she didn’t agree to change the terms of the PIP at the original meeting, then it’s not going to change. Those are your job expectations and it’s pretty clear you’ll be fired if you don’t meet them, even if that just means changing perception or visibility to make it more obvious that you’re already doing things required by it.

      1. LBK*

        And also, not being given this feedback prior to the PIP does suck, absolutely. But bad management doesn’t meant the consequences won’t be just as real – a bad manager still has the authority to fire you, whether it’s fair or not. If you can’t accept the reality of your job – that is, that you have kind of a crappy manager and that you have to meet the terms of the PIP to continue to be there – then you need to move on anyway.

        1. AndersonDarling*

          I was thinking along these lines as well. If you ended up on a pip with no warning, then it sounds like a bad manager. But writing a rebuttal will only make things worse… if you intend to stay. It sucks, because your side of events should be taken into account, but your manager won’t care and just get pissed that you are confronting them.
          I’d suck it up and play along until you are off the pip and can transfer to another department or find another job. I’m assuming that an HR rep is helping with the pip, so if you can be gracious about the situation, the HR rep will notice and may be able to help transfer you.
          Sorry, it sounds like a super crappy situation, and I hope it works out well in the end.

          1. OP #1*

            “…it sounds like a bad manager.” That much is clear. I have a feeling that my manager won’t care, but it seems important to document my side and correct some things that are happening so that the record in my personnel file is balanced. It seems like if I don’t write a rebuttal, some things that aren’t true are going to be held against me and will continue to be held against me because I didn’t show improvement (how can you show improvement on something that isn’t really happening?)

            I suppose if anything good can come from this, I’m learning a lot about what not to do to improve someone’s performance.

              1. OP #1*

                To show a more accurate picture of what is happening? Correcting inaccuracies in the PIP? Covering my butt in case things get really strange? It’s so confusing. I’ve never been in a situation like this before.

                1. fposte*

                  I think what Colette is getting at is that while the impulse is understandable, it’s not likely to make much practical difference.

                2. Colette*

                  The thing is that it doesn’t really matter – they can fire you regardless of your rebuttal, and if they do, you likely won’t be eligible for rehire regardless of what’s in your file. Your file (most likely) isn’t available externally, so focusing on making sure you have your say is taking your focus away from actually dealing with the PIP. As fposte says, I completely understand the impulse, but if it won’t help and might hurt, is it really worth doing?

                  It’s really difficult to have an argument with someone who doesn’t argue back, so I’d suggest you skip arguing back and make a real effort to take the feedback and improve. It might be enough to let you keep your job, and if not, it’s really annoying to someone who is trying to make your life miserable.

                3. Observer*

                  For those purposes stick to just the things that are factually inaccurate. In most cases, it won’t do you much good – except possibly in dealing with unemployment payments if you do get let go. If you can show good reason to believe that it wasn’t egregious misbehavior on your part that led to your being let go, you should get unemployment even if the employer disputes it.

                4. OP #1*

                  “…take the feedback and improve.” I understand what you are saying and I am doing what I can to meet my boss’ (vague) expectations. Overall, this is a bad situation and I need to figure out next steps.

                5. Colette*

                  Yeah, it sounds like your management has, at a minimum, mishandled the situation, but if you take a look at what they’ve said, are there any themes? (i.e. my manager doesn’t like it when I make decisions about X without consulting her, people go to my manager with feedback they’re not comfortable giving me, etc.) Are there legitimate issues you could handle differently? It’s easy to say that the fault is entirely on your manager’s side, but that’s not a response that will be helpful and you may miss the opportunity to identify areas you can improve.

      2. OP #1*

        During the meeting itself, I thought it was best that I just sit there and not say anything. My boss wasn’t interested in hearing what I had to say at that time, and I was too shocked and angry to talk calmly about everything that was being brought up because I was not given the written PIP document before the meeting.

        Your comments bring up a side issue. There was one item where I was told that other coworkers were finding mistakes done by my department and people who made them told my assistant and then they tried to cover it up. I was never told about this by anyone until the PIP meeting. Should I mention my surprise at not hearing about it when it happened? It’s hard to know what really occurred in this circumstance. I really am a good manager and I am with my team members for much of the day so I am not sure it happened at all (yeah, the environment is that bad with even some management blaming others and not being truthful about things), but because I don’t have any specific dates or examples of what project it happened on, it’s not even possible to defend myself.

        1. neverjaunty*

          “the environment is that bad with even some management blaming others and not being truthful about things” – it’s almost academic whether you do a rebuttal at this point.

    2. OP #1*

      There are items on the PIP that are factually wrong, some things I did in the past that were approved by my boss and HR at the time that they are now saying are poor performance, etc. The fact that it’s happening at all is confusing, to say the least, because even as recent as 3 months ago, my boss was verbally telling me I was doing a good job. I didn’t mention all this in my question because I wanted to focus on what (if anything) I should say about the lack of confidentiality.

      1. Natalie*

        If you’re not already, start looking for another job. Something’s not quite right there and in the long run, it’s better to leave before you’re forced out.

        1. neverjaunty*

          Yes, this. Make sure you get WRITTEN copies of everything you can – this review, previous reviews, emails where your boss tells you to do X where you’re now being told X is a violation of company policy, etc.

          This kind of thing happens when your employer wants to get rid of you, but you’re not a poor performer, so they have to manufacture “cause” (also sometimes so they can avoid paying unemployment).

          1. OP #1*

            “…so they have to manufacture “cause” (also sometimes so they can avoid paying unemployment).” The documentation that a rebuttal can provide is also the reason why I am doing this. I’m guessing it would make it harder for them to avoid paying unemployment if I have decent documentation on my end. Really hoping it doesn’t come to that, though.

            1. LQ*

              From a Unemployment perspective (states may vary but this is most of them) the employer has to show that you really aggressively violated company policy for the most part (or quit showing up). Simply not doing your job and getting fired will still get you unemployment in most states.

              That said you should really be looking for a new job.

            2. neverjaunty*

              Make sure you get the documentation of your PIP and so on as well, though. If they don’t want to give it to you that’s also a ginormous red flag.

          2. Anonypants*

            “This kind of thing happens when your employer wants to get rid of you”

            This happens? I’m not doubting you, it just . . . well it did cross my mind but it felt like too disrespectful or paranoid of a thought to seriously entertain. Do managers really do this to people?

            1. Judy*

              Yes, it does. The most frequent thing I’ve seen is when people who have been rated as strong employees for years suddenly around their 53rd birthday start getting bad reviews.

              Many companies pension calculations pay out differently when “retiring from service” vs. “deferred retirement”. So if you get fired, laid off or quit before turning 55, you can get a 15% hit on your retirement. But once you’re 55, even if you get fired, you can technically retire and get your lump sum or start the monthly payout. (For example, early retirement gets a 3% a year hit, so retiring “in service” at 55 has the same payout as deferring retirement at 60.)

              Won’t be as much of an issue any more, since no one has pensions, but I certainly have seen this in two separate F50 companies.

            2. RecruiterM*

              Yes, it does happen.
              And the thing is, if your manager or employer wants you out, there is not much you can do to combat this. And you probably do not want to stay under such circumstances anyway.
              Just try to obey a letter of your PIP, ask for clarifications by email (cc: HR and bcc: you personal email), and look for a new job.

            3. OP #1*

              I’m as surprised as anyone about this being something that managers do to people. Never imagined it happening to me.

          3. voluptuousfire*

            ^ THIS. :gets on soapbox and hits caps lock key: GET WRITTEN COPIES OF EVERY DOCUMENT YOU CAN. I CANNOT STRESS THIS ENOUGH.

            I was in the same situation as you with LastJob, OP#1. I was dischared for “performance issues” that were never actually presented to me until two weeks before I was actually let go. I wasn’t put on a PIP at all nor was I actually given a copy of the report with my performance issues. The info sounded so unlike me, I was in shock and didn’t think to ask for a copy for my records. I also never looked them up in the database to see what the whole thing was about.

            This kind of thing happens when your employer wants to get rid of you, but you’re not a poor performer, so they have to manufacture “cause” (also sometimes so they can avoid paying unemployment).

            Agreed! I have a feeling my LastJob’s budget didn’t include for the full timer they wanted to hire so they looked at the team as it was and made the decision to let me go. I wasn’t a poor performer but I wasn’t that great of a cultural fit. It was a start-up and the majority of my coworkers were anywhere from 22-27 and I was the old bat at 34. :)

            1. OP #1*

              I am getting documentation, but thank you for bringing it up. It’s good advice for everyone who is in a bad workplace situation.

      2. AndersonDarling*

        Wow, that’s a terrible situation to be in! I’d consider having a sit down with the HR rep and discussing the issues. Having it in writing may be more confrontational than it needs to be. Or have everything written down and discuss each point, then if they are not being receptive, you can officially hand over your rebuttal.
        But… I tried something similar a long time ago and the HR Rep refused to accept my pip rebuttal. And I had emails to back me up. That was a really bad situation and I should have just been quiet and kept my head down to work through the pip until I could get away.
        You may need to decide what situation you are in. Does it seem like they just want you gone? Then you may want to duck and cover. But if the parties seemed actually concerned and talked about your future after the pip is completed, then you may have a chance to straighten things out.

        1. OP #1*

          Sorry you had to go through this, too. The thing is, if I don’t write a rebuttal, there is no documentation that some of the PIP is wrong. Without that documentation, the original PIP stands as written, mistakes and all. I am certain that whatever conversation I would have with people, even if they agree with me at the time, would be “forgotten” in the face of written documentation.

            1. OP #1*

              With my boss, probably not. But maybe someone higher up would take note and see that something stranger is happening? Am I being naïve about that? Maybe. Probably.

              1. fposte*

                Other people may have different experiences, but I’ve never heard of people trawling through old PIPs unless a lawsuit is in the picture. I don’t think it’s likely to happen; it will likely just go in the file and never get thought about again. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it, but I think it makes sense to be realistic about what you expect to get from it and how much trouble that it’s worth.

          1. LBK*

            Honestly, I think you’re vastly overestimating the worth of the contents of a personnel file. If you get fired or you quit, that PIP is probably never going to be seen by anyone ever. Your rebuttal is almost definitely never going to get read. I’m curious who you’re imagining is going to be going through your employee file other than your manager, or maybe HR if you file unemployment and there’s a question of documentation – but even then, the rebuttal doesn’t make a difference in whether you qualify or not.

            I really do understand the urge to try to defend yourself and to correct the record. The thing is, an employee file isn’t like a police record – it doesn’t follow you around and it doesn’t list your workplace crimes in perpetuity for others to review and judge. It basically only exists for your manager at the company you work at, or maybe any other managers you’d have there if you took a new job internally.

            I just don’t think the advantages you’re thinking of actually exist. Where do you see this actually impacting you down the road?

            1. OP #1*

              It’s a confusing time. The unemployment thing has crossed my mind (if I get fired for “just cause,” I thought they didn’t have to pay, but a rebuttal would provide some documentation that circumstances are not as the PIP says they are). It sounds like that’s not how it goes, according to commenters here.

      3. BRR*

        Ugh that’s awful. Is there any other reason a PIP might have been brought up, a new higher up, department budget problems, did you have a disagreement with someone?

        Do you know if other people recover from PIPs? Have the improvements been clearly stated and are achievable? I worry they’re trying to push you out, in looking out for your best interest you might want to start job hunting.

        1. OP #1*

          It’s hard to say why it’s happening. Most of the improvements I am supposed to do are vague, so he can then say if my efforts to improve are good enough or not.

            1. OP #1*

              That is something I am trying to do as I perform activities related to the PIP. My boss’ response is hit and miss, depending on how a given day is going. The reason why I want to write a rebuttal is because some things in the PIP are not factually correct, although many people here think a rebuttal is a waste of time.

      4. Colette*

        I agree with Natalie that it’s time to seriously consider looking for another job. It sounds like your boss is terrible.

        I think the only way in which you should address hearing things for the first time on the PIP is in a surprised tone focused on fixing the issue – i.e. “Thank you for bringing this to my attention, I certainly agree that covering up mistakes is not acceptable. Let me look into this and come up with a plan for addressing it.” Yes, they should tell you in advance, but pointing that out will not do you any favors.

        1. OP #1*

          Thank you for that advice, Colette. I have been wondering how to talk about this, but having that kind of tone will be more professional on my part.

      5. Observer*

        As the others say, it sounds like the lack of confidentiality is the least of your problems.

        Lots of luck in getting it sorted out – or finding a new job!

        1. Not So NewReader*

          But the lack of confidentiality sounds like it is in keeping with the rest of the things that are wrong here. It sounds like a place that operates on scuttlebutt, rumor mill and gossip. So. yeah, sharing a PIP with someone would be along the same vein. People gather power by knowing little bits of secret information about each other.

          1. OP #1*

            “It sounds like a place that operates on scuttlebutt, rumor mill and gossip.” That is an accurate description, sadly.

  17. TotesMaGoats*

    #1-Are you refuting the contents of your PIP because it isn’t true or because you didn’t get any coaching on those topics? I would leave out the line about confidentiality but keep in mind that someone that you work with has some loose lips. Then I would buckle down and make the effort to get off the PIP by working hard. You make the initiative to seek out coaching and improvement.

    #5-All I heard was “I can’t use the door I want” and said with a whine. If one of my staff came to me and said the same in that same tone, they would get my patented “are you kidding me” face. Provided the doors being locked are not violating OSHA or fire regulations, if you’ve asked once and done so nicely then drop it and use the door you are told to use.

    1. UK Anon*

      In fairness to #5, I think that there might be a genuine concern in there. They mention that it’s the quickest route to the parking lot, and whilst that may just be that they don’t want a longer walk, it could also mean that they take that route for safety reasons. Parking lots are usually one of those places that have the power to be intimidating, and if leaving through the front means going through a covered walkway/up a stairwell/past shady corners etc that could present a legitimate safety concern which OP avoids by going through the side door.

      For something like that, I hope that they would show a little more awareness and compassion – and even if they continue to insist on the (perfectly legitimate) signing in and out, make sure eg areas are well lit, full CCTV coverage etc to help allay those concerns.

      1. LBK*

        I can see safety potentially being a concern, but I didn’t get the sense that was the reason from the OP’s letter. Unless that part was omitted it sounds like it’s purely about convenience: “I often leave through the side door to get to my car as this is closer to the employee parking lot.”

      2. TotesMaGoats*

        Sure, safety can be a concern and those concerns should be addressed but I didn’t get that from the OP at all. It seemed to be a convenience factor that was the issue. And you can still ask to have the rules changed but the attitude that you go about it will get you a long way. It’s a vinegar vs honey situation.

      3. sev*

        All of this. I briefly worked in a call center in the shady part of town, and the walk from the approved door to the employee parking lot set me on edge every time. If you wanted, you could get a security escort to drive behind you while you walked to the car. AFAIK they weren’t allowed to do anything but call 911 for you, be a witness, and maybe yell “stop right there!” Also, it seemed to be a way to earn a reputation for being delicate. I just carried a knife and hoped to never get searched.

      4. Observer*

        Sure, safety could be a concern, but the original letter indicates otherwise. Having better lighting, cctv etc wouldn’t make it less of a “violation” (the term used by the LW.)

    2. OP #1*

      Some of it isn’t true, some of it is about work that was previously approved by my boss and HR (that they now say was sub-standard). With how vague most everything is, it feels like a moving target. I don’t talk too much about negative things at work because you never know how that can come back to you.

      1. TotesMaGoats*

        Seeing your more detailed response to other’s posts, I’ll echo the get out while you can sentiment. The more detail you gave in the comments changes the whole tone of your question. Sounds like you’ve got a target on your back.

  18. Molly*

    #5 – This happened about a year after I joined my current company. I was in an ops position at the time, and because of that, I knew that it was entirely security-related. There was a member of the staff who had received serious threats from a customer, and the company wanted to be able to make sure the staff member was safe. Having only one point of entry/exit was essential to making sure no unauthorized person could get in and hurt someone. It’s very easy for a person to wait near an unmonitored exit and sneak in when some hurried employee runs out the door to get to her car; just catch the door before it closes and you’re in.

    After that emergency situation passed, the rule was kept in place; people were used to it, and it was more secure. We were always able to get out in an emergency. And knowing who was in the building — who had badged in and who hadn’t – was very valuable to us a few times when we had to evacuate for fire alarms or civic emergency situations. Management was able to get an accurate count of who was left in the building by pulling the entry/exit data.

    Yes, it was really inconvenient to only be able to use one door – especially since the door was on the 6th floor, and a lot of people worked on 5. They’d have to ride up to 6, badge through, and then go back down to 5 through the secured elevator. But management didn’t do it to inconvenience us – it was always a matter of workplace safety.

    1. LMW*

      Yes, to all this.
      I also want to add that at my current company this type of security (with limited entrance points, required badging in and out and monitored entrances), is required by some of our clients, including the government for intellectual property and security reasons. Depending on the line of business the OP is in, the new security measures might have been added for similar reasons.

  19. Red Librarian*

    I’m going to need more clarification on #5: are the doors locked all the time and employees therefore can’t get out at all or are the doors always unlocked, they just prefer you not use them? The second one is okay, the first one is not.

  20. illini02*

    #4 That reminds me of a job I interviewed for about a year ago. They had me do these aptitude tests, then meet with a psychologist. The psychologist told me that I tied for the highest score he had seen, and I thought my meeting with him went well . I went on to not get the job lol. Still no idea why. I’m guessing he thought that personality wise, I wouldn’t mesh with the boss or something.

  21. KellyK*

    #1 The main thing I would add to what’s already been said is to acknowledge that not giving him that info in advance might’ve caused confusion. E.g., “Hey, Bob, I neglected to mention to you that jeans, shorts and graphic t-shirts aren’t acceptable for work or fundraising events. I know you weren’t aware of it, but I do need you to make sure not to wear them in the future.” Basically, you make it clear that it is an expectation he needs to follow, but also that he’s not in trouble for not having read your mind.

    #5 is pretty common as a security thing. It’s annoying to not be able to use the door closest to the parking lot, but not a big deal. I would clarify that they aren’t actually locking the doors so that people inside can get out, but otherwise let it go.

  22. Tasha*

    #4 If they’re having trouble hiring new people, they’d be in even more trouble if they let current employees go, right?

  23. Lisa*

    I actually miss dressing up sometimes. One job I had was in a warehouse office, and I dressed up except during the busy holiday season where I was working 14 hours days. Then I was in a job where it was only dress up at meetings, so I was jeans + nice stuff. Now I am jeans only and its kind of depressing, I liked dressing up a bit. This place has no contact with the outside world at all. It’s very isolating, and there are times that I don’t speak or see the people in the next cube over from me until they say goodbye at the end of the day.

    1. Kelly L.*

      I’ve found that when I have a job where I dress casually, I tend to dress up in my off time, and vice versa. When I worked at a place where we wore T-shirts and khakis, I’d put on a dress on my day off so I’d feel “free” from work. And since I’ve started working in offices where I wear dresses or dress pants and nice tops, I end up wearing T-shirts and jeans on the weekends. I think I just like having a transition or contrast between Work Me and Fun Me.

      1. De (Germany)*

        Yes, totally. I used to throw on the sweatpants and t-shirts when I came home wearing a button-down blouse and pumps and now that I mostly go to work in jeans and nice tops (and occasionally t-shirts) I often wear skirts and dresses in my off-time. Sometimes just for sitting on the couch watching TV.

    2. Chriama*

      I’ve always been on the dressier side of things, even in my casual life. I’ve never quite figured out how to pull off the ‘blazers and jeans’ look, but I definitely prefer skirts and nicer tops. I pretty much hate jeans, although I don’t mind those black yoga pants because they’re super comfortable (but not tights! Tights are not pants!). The most casual I get is a jean skirt, or a sundress & cardigan.

    3. Mints*

      Agreed. Right now my weekend wear is just younger. Right now my work clothes are business casual, I guess, but so boring. On weekends I want to wear things that are fun, and crop tops, and bright colors, and punk.

      When I worked childcare, it was actually a pretty strict dress code (but since it was so casual, I doubt parents knew). I mostly wore yoga pants and basketball shorts, with the required tshirt, and sneakers. And on weekends I wore lots of “very put together casual” like Kennedys at brunch causal.

      1. Kelly L.*

        I’ve really fallen in love with wearing geeky t-shirts since going into office work. Before that, I avoided printed t-shirts like the plague except for sleeping, because I had to wear them for work! :D

  24. HM in Atlanta*

    Re #5 – One of my sites is a secured facility (no signage, fencing, guards to come on the property, man-trap entrance, etc.). You must badge in and out of the building (for security purposes). There are a multitude of exits (always unlocked from the inside), but if you go out any other than the front door it sounds the evacuation alarm. You can’t enter these exits from outside the building.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yeah — someone accused another commenter of being a past commenter who was known for instigating debate on gender issues. I don’t want people using other commenters as an insult (or implying that there’s only one person in the world who would have a particular stance on something).

        1. Windchime*

          Alison, this is totally off-topic, but I really like the way you moderate. Your policies are those of a really nice person, and I appreciate that you keep this environment respectful.

  25. neverjaunty*

    OP #2 – your manager is right in one sense, which is that this is a sleazy and generally illegal thing that is nonetheless common in the restaurant industry, like unpaid overtime. Depending on where you are, there are almost certainly restaurant employees’ unions or workers’ organizations that can advise on this stuff, and in the US employment lawyers generally work on contingency fee (ie. they don’t get paid unless their client wins a lawsuit), so you can almost always get a consultation/information for free.

  26. Mimmy*

    I’m always befuddled by dress codes!!

    That said, I always thought it was common sense that you don’t wear jeans and a “cartoon” t-shirt in an office setting, even as a volunteer at a nonprofit (that’s what I did during & after college). But I do recognize that not everyone had that ingrained like I did growing up. Sure, he could’ve paid more attention if he’d been on interviews at other companies or even at the administrative offices of his school, but this is a whole new world for him, so I’m having a hard time faulting him.

    KellyK’s suggestion above is perfect. Make sure he knows he’s NOT in trouble, but be firm and clear about your expectations for proper dress going forward. I’d also add that it might be good to allow him to ask for clarification if he’s unsure about whether a particular article of clothing or pair of shoes is okay.

    1. Biff*

      I find dress codes to be a complete nightmare, not just befuddling. I’m a legal midget (you wouldn’t know, necessarily, looking at me.) My similarly-sized friends also find them to be a nightmare. Go ahead, just try to find reasonably-priced office wear in a 28-26. Or a 26-26. If you can find it, you often look like a kid in a school uniform, which is NOT a look for a jobsite (I’ve already had the issue of one boss acting like ‘Dad’ all the time. Awkward.) In addition, an adult body has different proportions than a child’s body, so it’s not really feasible to shop in the kids section though many people suggest it. Even if I could, it’s often cheaply made and has tell-tale signs of being for a child.

      I’ve gone shopping online, I’ve put aside a huge chunk of money for clothes thinking if I went up the food chain I’d find my sizes. It’s simply not out there to buy more often than not. If I had a strong business casual dress code where I work now, I’d be up Crap Creek. I can’t be the only one that finds themselves in this boat. (In fact, I work with several people that have unique fitting challenges that would also be up Crap Creek.)

      It’s probably not the case, but I do wonder if this guy also has unique fitting challenges and because casual clothes have become so ubiquitous and have the largest size range that this is what he can find.

      1. KellyK*

        That has to be thoroughly annoying. (I’m towards the top of the “plus size” range for a lot of stores, so my clothing options aren’t great, but I can at least find decent stuff shopping online.) Would getting clothes tailored be a possibility? (E.g., get pants that fit well in the waist and get them hemmed)

        1. Biff*

          Not really. I can do this on SOME straight-leg pants, but the fashionable jeans, that are more appropriate for business casual have a contoured cut through the leg. These legs flare a little below the knee to accomodate the calf, and taper at the knee to have a tailored look. When you have proportions such as myself, the taper usually hits mid-to-upper calf, where it binds up, and the knee is baggy because it is occupying the area for the lower thigh. The overall effect (and I know that I am not the only person that experiences this) is Dudley Do Right in Denim. I need to have them tailored completely, but this is a 200-300 dollar task. So right now, I’m in more casual clothes.

  27. AB*

    While I can understand the concern of a PIP being made non-confidential, I think the bigger concern is the lack of coaching. I was in a really similar situation where I was put on a PIP and it was the first time I’d heard about any of the issues the manager had. In fact, it was the first real feedback I’d gotten from the manager. I was completely blindsided by the PIP because I had only been under this manager for a few months and had nothing but praise from my previous managers. I had no way of knowing whether or not she was happy with my work; and as she never gave any indication that she wasn’t, I had no reason to think that change or improvement was required.
    OP, is your PIP process moderated through HR? If you feel that you were blindsided by this and had not received any sort of expectations or feedback that would indicate that there were problems prior to the PIP, I would go and talk to the HR person about that. I set up a meeting with the HR person and told them that I wanted to succeed and I took the managers concerns seriously and wanted to improve. But, I was seriously concerned about whether I was being put in position where I could succeed. I explained that my manager had not given me any sort of feedback or set any expectations.
    Unfortunately in my case, I don’t think the manager cared about my improving. She was a good chocolate teapot designer who’d been put in the manager position because her teapots were very successful. I was a new teapot designer who was still learning the ropes and she wasn’t interested in helping me develop and only wanted someone who could do the work exactly the way she wanted without her having to involve herself.

  28. OP #1*

    Our stories do sound fairly similar. HR was at the PIP meeting. For other reasons (that I won’t get into here), I’m sure talking to HR won’t help, unfortunately.

    1. AB*

      Yeah, unfortunately it didn’t help in my case (office politics played a huge role in that). But perhaps it would be a starting point for any poor soul who gets stuck in that position in the future (HR and upper management would know there was a history of issues)

  29. chump with a degree*

    My niece went to California Institute of the Arts and was impressed that they did not even require clothing. I think they still had to wear shoes, though.

  30. Manager anonymous*

    to OP#1-
    Forget the rebuttal. Unless you have evidence that the statements are false- the PIP says that you were consistently late – the time card that she signed shows you consistently on-time. She has no documentation otherwise.

    I wasn’t trained…I wasn’t coached… I didn’t know… are all excuses.

    Start from today. Lets pretend the PIP is accurate. How can you meet the expectations stated?
    Are they vague- write your own- and email them to you supervisor ccng HR with an introduction-
    Given the recent meeting about my job performance in the area of X these are the actions I am taking to improve my performance….
    …In order to better supervise my staff, I will institute a policy of written orders with firm due date.
    ….There will be a weekly check in by email to document progress on Project B.

    … Given the slipping of deadlines of Portfolio C…do these revised deadlines, deliverables meet with your approval.
    ….I understand that accuracy is an essential component of my job description. While working on deliverable E, you can find me working on the 7th floor for two hours on Friday afternoon as I find it difficult to focus on detail in the open seating area on 6.
    Then document your success.

    And yes, if the problem is with present management…this situation is not going to get better. Time for greener pastures.

    1. OP #1*

      There are some things in the PIP that are not factually correct and I have verification. Your suggestion of managing up makes sense, though how well my boss receives it will depends mostly on how the day is going.

    1. Mints*

      This is sort of helpful, but I wish there were a few (like 3-5) on each option. Like I could never picture myself buying a red suit. What would be the equivalent for someone who harbors a secret goth who’s afraid of bright colors?
      And pants for women, obviously

      1. Nancypie*

        I wore some colored suits in the late 90’s/early 2000’s, but now wear mostly black and grey, with a pop of color. I rarely see anyone in those matching colored suits anymore… The president of our division is a woman who wears some bright stuff, but I assume she has a personal shopper or a stylist or something.

      2. Mephyle*

        The illustrations are quite simplified – just one for each level. In other words, they are illustrative, but not limiting. So the caption on the red suit picture, ‘suits can be more brightly colored,’ doesn’t mean they must be. Thus: black, navy blue, dark brown, charcoal. Or lighter but not bright colours – muted shades and/or earth colours.

        1. Mephyle*

          Also, I’m pretty sure that a bright-coloured suit isn’t for a matchy-matchy look, it’s if you have the right sort of wardrobe that red, say, could be your ‘neutral’ go-with-everything else colour.

    2. KellyK*

      Yeah, I agree. “Women must always wear skirts” might be true at the boardroom level, or in really conservative offices (according to Corporette it’s very much a thing in law), but that’s about it. My company is officially “business casual” as a baseline, with higher-level managers and anyone who has a meeting with customers dressing more formally. What I see people wearing ranges from Business Insider’s 3-4 for most employees, and 2 (with maybe the occasional 1) for senior level people, but women at all levels wear pants or skirts.

      Also, while we’re at it, what’s with high heels starting at level *3*? If nice flats (in a similar style to whatever heels would be appropriate) are excessively casual for your work environment, then I’d say you’re on the high end of traditional business attire, possibly into boardroom attire.

  31. Rose*

    #2 – I waited tables from age 16 until 22. I have never, ever heard of this before. If things are getting burned, dropped, etc. it is 9 times out of ten because things are busy and everyone is stretched thin. It’s very much a part of life in the industry. I would look for a different job ASAP.

    1. Steve G*

      YEah – you want to hold me liable for mistakes?! Then I aint ever doin’ anything extra and certainly nothing experimental or out of the ordinary.

      1. Rose*

        Yupp. I’ll be making sure I NEVER make a mistake, so I’ll probably be working really slowly, busing tables in four different trips, and avoiding any task where mistakes are likely to be made.

    2. Fucshia*

      We sometimes had to pay for things when I waitressed, but it was only if you ordered the wrong food and then you got to take the food home with you. But even that was rare and only if you just kept doing it. Usually, the restaurant would cover it and everyone come snack on it during breaks.

  32. monologue*

    #2 I’ve worked in a few different restaurants that threatened this and they never actually made anyone pay. The only thing I’ve seen happen is making servers pay for bills when someone dines and dashes. I would say go to the labour board if you want, but if you’ve never seen this supposed policy invoked, I think it’s unlikely to happen to you. Restaurants basically don’t follow labour laws, but change does happen here and there when you call the labour board on them.

    #5 They did this to us at my institution. Annoying as hell since thr back door I used to go out saves me around 2 blocks of walking! They do unlock them during a fire alarm though. Perhaps one way to deal with it is to confirm that they will be unlocked during an alarm by asking your manager or contacting your company’s safety office or fire marshall if you have one. If the alarm goes off, go try the door closest to you and report it if it’s not unlocked. You probably won’t get your wish of going out the door you want again but you can definitely get peace of mind about being trapped in an emergency.

    1. Rose*

      #2… wtf is the point of making a server pay for someone who doesn’t pay for their meal?? as a server, you’re running around taking orders, getting food, etc. You don’t have time to be a flipping body guard. That’s one of the most unfair, useless policies I’ve ever heard! Did people complain?

  33. Kate*

    Does anyone else totally want to take #4’s aptitude test now … ? My knee-jerk reaction is like – most people fail? CHALLENGE ACCEPTED. Even knowing it’s likely I’d probably fail too.

    1. Reader*

      It’s not just about the difficulty of the test but the fact that you have to answer as many of the 50 questions as possible in something like 15 or 20 minutes. You can’t skip questions and you of course can’t use a calculator or the internet to search words. It was complex word problems (hard without calculator), some sort of geometry or something to do with shapes (I forget), and vocabulary.

      1. afiendishthingy*

        Did it have pictures of unfolded boxes of weird shapes? I HATE THOSE. They make zero sense to me. Math and vocabulary I think I’d do ok on but my spatial reasoning skills are pretty lacking.

  34. FX-ensis*

    3 – I think OP, in all honesty, you have to take some of the blame here. It’s obvious he didn’t know, or the dress code wasn’t specified to him fully. Assure him it’s not based on his performance, but that his dress up not up the standard.

  35. FX-ensis*

    5 – I work in security administration, and yes, this is normal.

    It’s good practice to have a count of all persons at a given time on site. And provided emergency exits are functional, there isn’t really a problem IMHO.

    It’s also good to ensure there are limit entry/exit points, to stop thefts, provide support for security systems, etc.

    It is best practice for security measures around the world, in many industries.

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