asking an employee to cover the cost of a missed flight, tops with shoulder cut-outs at work, and more

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

1. Asking an employee to cover the cost of a missed flight

We have an employee who recently missed a flight due to a panic attack. She couldn’t fly. We then had to purchase a new ticket for another employee to take her place. The cost was double. We’ve spent $1,500 on tickets. First ticket $500, second $1,000. What course would you take?

What would you have done if she’d woken up with the flu that morning and couldn’t go? Presumably (I hope) you’d write this off as a cost of doing business and not even think about asking her to pay for it.

It’s the same thing here. The only thing that’s really different is that if her job will involve more flying and she has a flying phobia, it would make sense to check in with her about how to handle travel going forward.

But if you want to be known an employer who treats your people well, cover the cost of the ticket. Don’t ask her to cover something that’s ultimately a business cost even though she couldn’t use the ticket.

2. Tops with shoulder cut-outs at work

Would “cold-shoulder” shirts be considered appropriate for an office where the dress code is business casual? My manager asked me what I thought of it and I told him that I thought is was inappropriate, but I dress very conservatively anyway. A female coworker wore one a few weeks ago and now more coworkers are wearing them. I’m 99% sure he thinks it’s inappropriate but is struggling to find the right way to address it. He is afraid that as the weather gets warmer, the tops are going to get more revealing. One of the ladies who is wearing these kind of tops was spoken to about her clothing last year and got very upset, caused a scene, including crying, and I think he is afraid of another scene.

(This is a picture of a top that is very similar to what they are wearing, but it is not an exact replica and it’s not waffle-knit material.)

I don’t think they’re office-appropriate at all, even if you’re business casual. But even if some offices are fine with them, cut-outs are enough outside general business wear norms that it would be perfectly reasonable for your manager to let people know they’re not allowed in your office.

Unless he was a complete jerk about it, it’s bizarre that someone caused a scene over the dress code last year. He shouldn’t let fear of that happening again prevent him from managing people now.

3. Does my new company not value employees?

I recently left my old company after almost a decade (in several different positions) for a promotion with a new company. I didn’t know there was an internal candidate who had been acting in the position for months. I am now at the new job and am her supervisor. She is wonderful and after an initial rocky few weeks, we’ve come to really respect each other. I am learning a lot from her and she is professional about me being in the job.

However, I have less experience than her and I can’t help but feel the whole situation is very unfair. She has been put in the awkward position of training me (my boss has little interest in what we do) and the other new team member. I try my best to be a good manager and productive member of the team. We have discussed the situation and I know she is looking for a new job. I told her I will support her in whatever she wants to do. I hate the idea of losing her experience and institutional knowledge and really, my only ally in the company (as unlikely as that is).

I also feel like the whole experience has tainted my view of the company. My old job has now been filled so I have no choice but to muddle through. I guess what keeps eating at me, though, is that I can’t really do anything to improve the situation for my employee (I discussed that she may leave with my boss, who didn’t seem to think it mattered). I’m not sure I want to continue to work for a place that doesn’t value its employees. I guess my question is, how do I move forward and maintain a positive attitude in a situation like this. Or is it already time to move on after only four months?

There may be good reasons why she wasn’t promoted. For example, maybe she’s great at her current work but wouldn’t be great at managing a team (which is often a very different skill). Or maybe she doesn’t get along well with someone who she’d have to interact with a lot, or maybe her vision for the department is different than what the company wanted, or maybe you brought an important skill that she doesn’t, or all sorts of other reasons. And if your boss knows she’s not going to get promoted for a reason along those lines, he’s right not to try to stand in the way of her moving on.

Or, sure, it’s possible that this is a company that doesn’t value good employees. But this on its own isn’t evidence of that. I wouldn’t seriously consider leaving after only four months without much, much more to alarm you.

4. Are these intern candidates assuming we’ll provide relocation help?

Is there some kind of unwritten assumption that internships will include relocation benefits or housing assistance? I’m responsible for hiring an intern for the first time and I’m surprised by the huge number of applicants from out of state and internationally. We do not have plans to offer relocation benefits to interns or pay extravagant wages that would subsidize a cross country move (we’re a medium sized non-profit).

In the past, most of our interns were students locally and worked full time in summer and stayed on part time during the school year. That schedule is not a requirement but preferred and that would require someone local. The job description just says that the job is in this city and that dates and hours are flexible.

Should I bother considering these students? Only one so far has mentioned that while they go to school in another state, they are from our area and hope to return for the summer. If feel like it’s not my business to get involved in someone’s housing arrangements before I even speak to them. But I’m leaning toward not considering anyone who doesn’t have a local address.

No, there’s not usually an assumption that internships will provide relocation or housing assistance … but just to be clear, it wouldn’t hurt to mention in your ad that you don’t offer those. You could also write back to any of the long-distance candidates who seem promising and say something like, “I want to make sure you know that while this is a paid internship, we don’t offer relocation or housing assistance, and we’d need you to be here in Llamatown from May 20 to August 15. Knowing that, does it still make sense to proceed?”

5. Should I ask what’s up with all the delays in this hiring process?

I interviewed, via Skype, for a position with a company that is out of state about three weeks ago. The company is aware that I am not in the same state as they are, but I told them that I will be moving to that state regardless if I receive an offer from them. The interview went great. I was initially told that that they would let me know at the end of the week. A week goes by and they email me stating that they are in the process of making a decision, but I am still one of the top candidates and they would get back to me end of this week or next. Then at the end of the week, the hiring manager gave me a call and basically told me the same thing, that they were still in the process and that they would get back to me the next week. They also asked me to inform them if anything changes on my end about the move date or any other offers I receive. I informed them that I was applying to other jobs in the area.

A week goes by and then today I receive another email. This one states that they are still in the process of making a decision and that they are recruiting for several positions and there are many moving parts. I have not replied yet to the latest email but I am just feeling frustrated and confused. Is this normal for a company to delay like this? Should I reply back asking for more info and am I really being considered for the position? At this point I want to know as it is getting close to the cut off date of me feasibly getting out there before the tentative start date of May 1st, as I need to give notice and my current work and then move.

Delays of this many weeks and even longer are incredibly normal. What’s less normal is how considerate they’re being by keeping you posted about what’s going on.

Don’t ask them if you’re really being considered; that would come across oddly. Take them at their word, and assume you’ll hear from them at whatever point they make a decision.

If they do make you an offer and it’s too close for May 1 to still be a feasible start date, you’d just explain that you’d be cutting it too close with your move and ask for a start date of ___ instead. Start dates are rarely written in stone, especially when a hiring process drags out longer than was originally planned.

{ 634 comments… read them below }

  1. LisaLee*

    #4 PLEASE don’t toss the applications of anyone who doesn’t live locally! As someone who graduated fairly recently, it was so incredibly hard to find an internship, especially since I wanted to make the jump from a mostly-rural area to a large city. Many young people know that low- or unpaid internships are necessary these days and even more so in unusual or competitive fields. Plus if the applicants are college students, they might very well have family living near you but put their college address to make sure they got your responses.

    1. DataQueen*

      Especially college kids who move home for the summer – who knows where their family lives! Ideally they would know enough to put their local address on those resumes, but alas, they still have a lot to learn… which is why you should give them internships!

      1. Leah*

        I commented down below but when I was in college even putting down my local address and addressing it in my cover letter didn’t help- there’s a bias against out of state colleges in some areas apparently.

    2. Geneticist*

      Echoing this. #4 please please don’t ignore out of area applicants!!! You don’t know anything about their situation. They might want to work in your city because their significant other already has a position arranged. They might be planning to stay with family in the area. They might have worked all school year to ensure they can afford to take your internship. I spent all four summers in college doing internships up and down the whole East Coast because I knew I had to do them to get into grad school. It’s not really hard — I sublet furnished apartments for the summer and my “moving” consisted of flying or taking the train and checking extra bags. All of my internships paid (like $5-6k for the summer) and after housing and food I broke even for the summer… but it was worth it and absolutely necessary.

      1. Nancy Drew*

        I agree, and I’ll put in a plug for applicants to spell out their connection to or interest in the city in their cover letters. See OP1’s post for evidence that it matters and can give an applicant a boost, all else equal! I think it especially matters if the city isn’t “the” place to go for that industry or if the city connection is not clear from the candidate’s resume (whether school, work history, or other experiences). I work in a city that is a hub in my industry, and we still look for articulable ties to or interest in the city when we interview candidates.

        1. gwal*

          hmm even this seems kind of unfair–if a person would be enthusiastic to work in their field, regardless of whether it’s in Miami or Milwaukee, why are they disadvantaged against someone who absolutely MUST be in Miami? seems like the qualifications and fit, rather than irrelevant location-specific parameters, should be the determining factors

          1. Frozen Ginger*

            I think in the case of internships and really most starting positions, is that giving advantage to the people who MUST be in your city (with varying levels of “must”) means you’ll probably have a higher chance of retaining them. Especially in an industry where training takes up a good chunk of time.

            You don’t want to invest a year in the training and development of someone who’s more likely to leave in two years because they have nothing to tie them to the area. (This unfortunately does come around to disadvantage military partners, so discretion is def key here.)

            1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              Eh, I disagree.

              Retention is about how you treat people, their job tasks, cost of living, and whether there’s room for upward movement. And on the “non-employer-influenced” side, it’s determined by lifestyle preferences and unknowables like “need to move close to family” or “must move for significant other’s job/school opportunities.” I’ve had plenty of staff who did not have to be where we were decide to stay, and I’ve had folks who felt they “must” be in my city leave. And the same has been true for my interns and entry-level staff. Heck, I’m a transplant from a “high demand” region who moved to the equivalent of Appalachia with the intention of being here long term.

              Plus, prioritizing people who “must” be in your city cuts both ways, but as you noted, one of the ways it cuts can undermine other organizational values (e.g., racial/socioeconomic, gender, and LGBT diversity; accessibility for individuals who are differently abled, veterans, and military spouses; ideological or experiential differences, etc.). Folks who are from an area can certainly bring local knowledge (although by the time you finish college, your hometown might not be the same as it was when you left), but all else being equal, it’s not great to adopt approaches that are not backed by evidence and have a high likelihood of creating harm because of underlying structural inequalities.

          2. Nancy Drew*

            In the case of my company, it is partly about a higher likelihood of retention, and the articulable interest does NOT have to be a preexisting tie or family connection – just a reasonable expression that THIS is either *the* or *a* city the applicant would seriously like to be in. In my field some candidates cast a wide net, and it’s sometimes hard to determine whether the person actually would accept a position in this city.

    3. Manders*

      I once used an internship to test out a city I was considering moving to post-college. I was lucky to have family who could help me out with housing and I found an affordable sublet. My hometown had a very rough job market at the time and there weren’t many paid internships (or any seasonal jobs, period) available, so I would have had to go out of town to get any kind of work experience anyway.

    4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I think I spent every internship in college out of state, and there was always a good reason for it (and I figured out my own housing).

      OP#4, don’t toss the applications. To be honest, I don’t think you need to email them to double-check that they know you don’t provide relocation assistance. It’s extremely normal for students to apply somewhere other than where their school (or hometown) is, and to not think anything of it (i.e., it’s so normal almost no one thinks to mention it).

    5. Casuan*

      some tangential queries about these applications…
      Isn’t there a law about keeping applications for one or two years?
      If so, I’m thinking this only applies to those who are actually hired, which would include interns?
      Is there a standard of keeping applications of those who are interviewed? If the above law is to help in case of lawsuits, wouldn’t the same apply to applicants [eg: if an applicant were to sue for discrimination or whatever]?

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        If you have 15+ employees, you have to keep all job applications for at least one year, whether or not they were hired.

        But often the expression “tossing applications” just means you’re making them a quick no, not that you’re literally tossing their materials out.

    6. AcademiaNut*

      Yes, don’t toss out the applications!

      If a student needs internships in order to get paid work in the field later, and there aren’t any internships where they live, then they have to move for internships if they want to work in the field. And really, once you’ve reached the point of needing a plane flight to get to a decent chance of internships, it’s not that much of a difference how far you go. A paid internship in another state will likely come out ahead of an unpaid one locally.

      I did out of province work terms as an undergrad (although they did cover airfare), and ‘relocation’ in that context meant a suitcase full of clothes and subletting a furnished room somewhere for the duration of the job. I’d have had to pay rent for a local job regardless of where it was, so the only different was the cost of the ticket.

      I would explicitly say that you don’t provide relocation in the job ad, though, to avoid any confusion, and I would also specify any citizenship based requirements (ie, do they need to already have permission to work in the US, or will you sponsor foreign students for work visas).

      1. Chinook*

        “If a student needs internships in order to get paid work in the field later, and there aren’t any internships where they live, then they have to move for internships if they want to work in the field.”

        I want to also point out that, if you are not able to live with someone for free (like relatives), then that opens up the whole country, which is why you may be getting applications from so far away. After all, if you have to rent a room somewhere, the only difference between doing it in your hometown vs. the other side of the country is the cost of travel. As well, the student may have family or family friends near where the job is and not willing/able to sue their place as a mailing address until they get a job there.

        All of the above are reasons why my peers and I from a small town far from the city went to far flung universities and even worked abroad for a few years – once you realize that staying where your family is means no educational or work opportunities and you will have to cover room and board regardless, the cost of living in another time zone can become negligible.

    7. M_Lynn*

      Just piping up to agree with everyone here-don’t toss those applications! I live in DC, and there is a flood of interns who come in for the summer. It’s very VERY normal to specifically seek out an internship in another location, whether to just go to a fun new place or because you have connections there or because you are interested in moving there later. Us millennials are pretty mobile these days.

      And I agree that your internship posting should state that you don’t provide housing assistance, that preference will be given to applications who can commit to working through December, and that you cannot sponsor work visas. That will help at least remove some international applicants who wouldn’t be able to do the internship.

      1. JB (not in Houston)*

        And even before millennials, this was a thing. I’m Gen X, and lots of my classmates had internships in a town across the state, in another state, or even in another country.

        1. Rachel 2: Electric Boogaloo*

          I’m also Gen X. When I was in college, I had a paid internship in New York City. (I’m from the Chicago area) My program made housing available via NYU for those who wanted it, but they didn’t pay for our housing. If there’s a college or university nearby, they may offer summer housing too.

          1. LawBee*

            I’m GenX too, and am now retroactively mad at my (otherwise excellent) college for not promoting internships more.

        2. M_Lynn*

          Awesome for all people travelling for internships (as long as they’re paid…). I didn’t mean to limit it as a new phenomenon-just pointing out that current students routinely do this.

    8. Susan*

      When I was in college, I applied for internships all over the country. I didn’t have any appreciable relocation costs because I had one tiny dorm room’s worth of stuff, all of which could fit in my car. I was used to living in student housing during the school year, so I would have been perfectly fine subletting a cheap apartment or renting a room in someone’s house for the summer. I had no expectations that the company would cover any of those costs for a summer internship, but I would have been willing to go anywhere for a good internship, and I bet most of these applicants feel the same way.

      1. Emma*

        Exactly – students generally don’t own a house or any pets, have very little furniture that they’re probably planning to sell when they move (since it’s mostly second-hand) anyway, and are generally not very tied to the city they live in. They’ll show up with maybe a couple of suitcases and rent somewhere short term.

        The reality of the current job market is that most students have to be willing to move pretty much wherever they can get a job. They all know this, it’s a fact of life: for better or worse they don’t expect much support in that.

      2. Natalie*

        A lot of students at my small college stayed with alumni for free during internships. The only relocation expense was getting to whatever city.

      3. Meg Murry*

        Yes, this is exactly what I did in college one summer. I rented a room off of a local college message board and showed up with nothing more than a trunk full of clothes and my computer. I bought a set of plastic shelves to put my clothes on and an air mattress and I was set. Would I want to live that way now as a 30-something adult? No. Was I willing to do it for a summer in my late teens-early 20s? Yes.

        I think in the you should include the information about no housing in the posting (or if you offer a lot of different internships, perhaps a FAQ on the website about internships, including the information about no housing assistance provided, whether you are accessible by public transport or if a car is needed, etc).

        To cover your bases, you could write up a basic version of this FAQ and send it out to people when you are trying to set up the initial interview – that would allow them to opt-out without wasting anyone’s time if the situation wouldn’t work for them.

        I have worked with some flaky students that needed their hands held for this kind of scenario because it wouldn’t have occurred to them – and also with a lot of completely competent students willing to figure it all out themselves in order to get a good summer position. So I wouldn’t assume either way, but rather just let them know what the deal is and then they can figure out if they can make it work.

    9. I Herd the Cats*

      While I agree with all the comments saying give out of state interns a chance (I live in DC and most of our interns are from elsewhere), I feel like part of OP’s question has been overlooked: “In the past, most of our interns were students locally and worked full time in summer and stayed on part time during the school year. That schedule is not a requirement but preferred ….” OK so they would PREFER an intern who works full time in the summer but stays on part time. In my experience, that would eliminate a significant portion of the applicants. So if it’s important to OP — not just preferred, but important — I think it would be helpful to include that info in the response. Maybe it’s my hiring-hardware gone rogue, but a longer-term part-time intern is a completely different posting than a short-term summer intern. Our position description and advertising would reflect that.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        True, if they really want a year-long intern that should go in the ad. In part because it’s not the norm–students who see an ad for a paid full-time summer internship are probably assuming no relocation costs, but also no implied job in the fall part-time.

      2. GigglyPuff*

        I’d definitely include the info if I was the OP, either in follow up’s now or on the post in the future.
        But also don’t use that to rule out people now without discussing it with them. While it was grad school and not undergrad, I moved for an internship and the project ended up being larger than they thought it would be and I really wanted to have a complete project on my resume, so I ended up staying on as a volunteer for another six months.
        So until you add the info to the next post, OP, should just discuss it with the candidates who are strong.

        1. GigglyPuff*

          I mentioned it was grad school because I was able to take classes the following year online. Forgot to say that.

      3. SometimesALurker*

        Agreed — if you’re posting a summer internship and not mentioning that you’re looking for someone who can be there in the year, you’re going to get a lot of people who don’t meet that preference. If you already mention it in the posting, the large out-of-state response probably says something about a shift in the job market for potential interns, and they’re trying their luck because they need a good internship. That part feels very familiar to me, as internships are a part of graduate programs in my field, and a lot of us had to make sacrifices in the rest of our lives to be able to do a good internship.

        My office did once receive a response to a volunteer posting that asked whether we could pay relocation and a housing stipend. For a three hours per week volunteer job that does not require specialized skills. But that isn’t normal, and we had a good laugh about it.

      4. Jessesgirl72*

        Yes, that part stuck out to me too and so many people are overlooking it.

        I agree that the job posting should at least reflect the expectations of that. Especially because the OP says it’s not a requirement, but is ready to reject any applicants she just suspects won’t be able to work part time through the school year. That sounds like a requirement to me.

      5. op4*

        OP4 here.

        Thanks for pointing this out I Herd the Cats. The job posting does not say “summer” anywhere. It says part time for 3-9 months.

        1. gwal*

          I’m so confused. You seem to want to make sure they don’t expect relocation assistance in your question, but in the comments you seem to think the applicants don’t understand the position’s timeframe. I think either concern would be best address by bringing up the issue in a phone screen of the best-qualified candidates, not arbitrary rejections at the resume phase.

    10. AliceBD*

      Yes, please don’t toss! I lived with an aunt and uncle for a summer internship in college. Other interns were roommates and sublet furnished apartments, or lived with other family. It was so not a big deal, and the company I interned with didn’t help with any of the arrangements.

    11. Falling Diphthong*

      My daughter is in college (hard sciences), and my impression from her internships was that you apply places you might like to go for the summer. Because of the work or locale, and the latter might be given weight because “my parents will house me” or “my uncle will give me a place to stay” or “I’d love to spend the summer on the opposite coast and assume I will sublet.”

    12. caryatis*

      I agree! If someone is applying for your internship, assume they know where you’re located and give them the same consideration you would anyone else. Whether the applicant has family connections to your area or not. When I was in the internship market, I got really sick of the assumption that I had to come up with a story to explain why I wanted to live in X City. I’m an adult, and there’s no reason I should be bound to always live in the place where I spent my childhood. People move, and the fact that your city is a great place to live is enough to explain why I want to live there.

    13. CoffeeCoffeeCoffee*

      I agree! Don’t ignore them because they’re out of state! I took two internships in college and the summer after I graduated in cities far from home- because they were great companies and in strong cities I wanted to live in and I wanted to take the best opportunity I could early in my career. Plenty of college students and recent grads do the very same thing- and without expectation that you’d cover relocation costs.

    14. Emi.*

      Don’t toss those applications! They may already have plans to cover housing and moving expenses. My school offered grants to help students do un- and under-funded internships over the summer.

    15. Pineapple Incident*

      I want to echo the above- please still consider non-local candidates, it’s so valuable!

      I was local candidate for an internship I got last summer, and I loved that my office had 13 interns from all over- some as far away as Idaho and Arizona (we were in DC). The institution had a line with almost exactly the wording Alison used in their job ad for the internships, and the HR person repeated it during our phone interview. I know the non-local interns worked really hard to make sure they could contribute to something meaningful over their summer and were perfectly okay with finding housing in the area (rentals, longer-term Airbnb’s, etc).

    16. Another Lawyer*

      Yup, a lot of kids find a place to crash with relatives/family friends or split a cheap sublet for the summer. I did it the summer after my sophomore year and it was a great chance to live in another city, get work experience, enjoy the summer, etc.

    17. Just Another Techie*

      Agreed! Also please don’t overestimate the cost of relocation for a young single person fresh out of (or still in!) college. When I did internships during and after college, I left all my belongings in a friend’s basement in my hometown. I rented a roomshare in the city of my internship, which was cheap and fully furnished, and took a greyhound with one large suitcase of clothes and my laptop an that was it. My “relocation” for the summer was easily paid for from savings from my school-year job waiting tables.

    18. paul*

      Amen. We’re hoping to relocate in the next couple of years, and there’s a list of cities we’ll be looking at (we’re still finalizing it) but between them, it’ll basically come down to where we can find jobs first.

      People occasionally want to move.

    19. Caroline*

      Agree–it is perfectly reasonable and normal for a college student to move to someplace just for a college internship, and I don’t think anyone would expect any moving assistance with that. They will likely just either pack up their car with their belongings and move into a summer sublet/roommate situation, or have other similar plans. Even if they don’t have family living there, they may really like to spend the summer someplace new, or not care if they have to move temporarily. That’s what you do when you’re 20!

    20. JustaTech*

      Going out of state for my internship was so important for me, not just for the job but also for a real opportunity to live on my own. My boyfriend lived in the state where I did my internship, but I had my own place. Internships are about learning, and at least for me a big part of that was all the “adulting” I didn’t do on-campus in college.
      I didn’t expect (or get) any relocation assistance and I was able to make it work.
      And hey, now I work at the place where I interned, so it was a good deal for everyone!

    21. Em*

      Regarding the part of the post that notes a difference between this year’s applicant pool and previous years, there may be factors in the broader internship landscape causing this. For example, the federal government internships in some agencies have been extremely sparse this year due to how uncertain the budget has been. I doubt anyone is confused about the costs of relocating – it’s probably more that they just really need an internship and the opportunities that existed in previous years aren’t there. (Said as a professional who went back to grad school, is now having to find a summer internship, and is severely regretting all life choices that led to this point).

    22. mb*

      Adding my support to this comment – I have been in the position of trying to move out of state more than once. I am (thankfully) now in a field/at a level where relocation is the norm, but as an entry-level candidate I absolutely expected to cover moving costs on my own. It was exasperating to know that my application was likely thrown out many times because of this misconception, and I had to experiment with a number of different ways to express that in my cover letters to try to address the concern head-on.

    23. bookish*

      Yup. When I was applying for internships I absolutely assumed they came with no benefits (no pay, no relocation, no housing). But you don’t always happen to live in an area with a lot of opportunities in your field. For example, my field is pretty much based in NYC and there are barely any opportunities for it in my hometown. Not everyone is lucky enough to live in NYC… not everyone is well-off enough to afford to live there for an internship either, but lots of people do it.

  2. DataQueen*

    Would the answer to #2 be different if tank tops are allowed as part of the dress code, and therefore shoulders are allowed to be shown? Or is the objection to the ‘specialization’ of the shoulders (which seems like a silly thing, but that’s the only way I can describe the objective of those shirts!). I have a pretty conservative but business casual office, and have worn blouses with arm keyholes or more delicate draped holes before, but the top in the link wouldn’t be an issue in my office on a Friday! In fact I might get one like it…

    1. tink*

      That would be less of an issue to me, personally? Although I’ve not been in many business casual offices where less than a sleeveless blouse is allowed during the summer.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It’s the cut-out more than anything that’s the issue. It’s not that the areas of the arm exposed by these tops are so scandalous; it’s that cut-outs themselves are generally “sexier” than what’s usually considered appropriate for work. In general, cut-outs of any kind don’t tend to be work-appropriate in most offices.

      1. I Herd the Cats*

        Hi Alison — apologies if you’ve already done this elsewhere and I’ve missed it — how about a general post on office attire and “dress code” with invitations to comment? Today’s question about cold-shoulder tops is a perfect example of problems with a specific, explicit “dress code” — it’s probably not in the dress code (yet), because fashion changes. Our office doesn’t have a specific dress code, but there are certain expectations that are hard to define…. I live in conservative DC and we’re expected to dress more conservatively, but what does that even mean? Particularly for people entering an office environment for the first time? I have a sensible 22 year old daughter and it’s been a beast trying to explain to her why “you can’t wear that” to work because her clothes are often covertly sexier, but she just can’t see it (too short, too tight, cutouts, inappropriate material, I could go on.) We could also address climate — for example, I know running around my office in a sleeveless top would be frowned upon. But I commute on the Metro and it’s hot, so most of my shirts/dresses in the summer ARE sleeveless — but nobody ever sees that because I have a blazer on in my chilly office. I know other folks keep clothes at work and change there. Anyhow, I love AAM and find “appropriate attire” discussions fascinating.

        1. Carrie*

          A “no sleeveless” rule seems very conservative to me! All of my summer work dresses are sleeveless (or have tiny cap sleeves that may as well be sleeveless). Not strapless, not tank tops, but sleeveless. I’m a computational scientist working in consulting, typically non-client-facing. For client meetings, I’d go more conservative — but one of my go-to “interview appropriate” outfits is a blazer over a sleeveless sheath dress, and if it got warm in the room I wouldn’t think twice about taking off the blazer!

          My sense of “office-appropriate” clothing includes a neckline, back, and armholes cut so that I can wear a regular bra without it showing, and a skirt about knee-length or longer (or non-jeans-style trousers). It’s the “wear a regular bra” part that might rule out cold shoulder tops. Wouldn’t the straps show?

          1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

            It depends on the style! I’ve seen cold shoulder tops that cover the entire horizontal shoulder area, so there’s no bra strap issue — but also ones that have nothing but a spaghetti strap and are effectively off-the-shoulder blouses with a little extra support.

          2. Amber T*

            I’m a youngin (mid 20s) and I’m not sure why, but “cover your shoulders” has been drilled into my head that I always feel weird wearing sleeveless at work. Just yesterday I wore a pretty conservative dress (high neckline, length below the knee) and though the straps are wide, it’s sleeveless. I always wear a cardigan with it. Yesterday I was boiling (they’re fixing the heat/ac unit), so I was walking around without it and just felt super weird. I don’t think I even notice when someone else wears sleeveless, it’s just been internalized.

            I actually have a shirt like that, with the shoulder cut outs, and I have worn it to work, but with a cardigan (and would not have taken said cardigan off). The front is pretty and plain and the color works well with my skin tone :)

            1. my two cents*

              I’m 32, but I also think ‘bare shoulders’ are a big no-no for the office. It was drilled into my brain that one should always at least carry their cardigan/jacket when wearing clothing that exposed the top of the shoulder. FWIW, I’d consider a small cap sleeve (sans cardigan) ‘less sexy’ or ‘more business-appropriate’ than a long sleeved shirt with shoulder cutouts.

              I think it can be tricky to not let office garb slide into ‘too sexy’ territory with fitting-but-not-tight cuts and neckline/cleavage issues, sort of in the same way guy’s ‘business-casual’ can very quickly move to casual-casual if the pants are beat up or the collar shirt is stained. Man, even trying to pick out dress trousers as a lady can be a headache – either they’re TOO bootylicious or they’re just about falling off of you when you try to walk!

              Yes, I do sometimes wear dresses instead. But our tradeshow booth ‘uniform’ includes dark blue polos, which I’d rather not attempt to match up with a skirt.

              1. Amber T*

                My issue too is I have “high cleavage” (my friend’s term) – basically my boobs start way up high. So even a moderately conservative top might be too “boobs in your face.” It’s not even that I’m that big breasted, it’s just very easy to look like I’m flashing the girls.

                1. FTW*

                  I have that too!!! I safety pin some tops where I can, but to a certain degree, I have just given up caring about 100% cleavage coverage. It helps that I am high enough in my career that I can make that call, to be sure. But at a certain point, I think you need to adapt the rules.

          3. Kj*

            Yeah, sleeveless is the norm in every area I live. Now, in current job, I will likely wear a sweater or blazer inside most days, but my current building can be blazing hot or freezing cold and I don’t know which when I dress for work. On hot days I take off all the sweaters. Most of my preferred tops/dresses are sleeveless; I add or subtract various thicknesses of sweaters as needed.

            My office-appropriate attire includes dresses/skirts about knee length or longer, tops that cover bra straps and nothing too tight. Oh, and shoes I can run in (Keens are great because they look professional, yet I can run in them). Yes, I have to run at my job- not daily, but it has happened enough I tell our interns NOT to wear heels.

            1. MT*

              The regional differences here fascinate me. I began my professional life in a coastal tourist town with 90+ degree summers. Office casual attire was basically “as casual as you like as long as it’s stylish.” Sundresses, sleeveless blouses, khaki shorts for men, strappy sandals, etc. The catch was that it had to be stylish – show up in a tee shirt and jeans or flip flips and you’re out. Thankfully I worked with enough people from out of state to hear them talk about how unusual that was, so I know not to expect that to transfer over when I move!

        2. Tedious Cat*

          Oh, I would love this! I just moved to an office that is actually business casual instead of just claiming to be business casual and the dress code has me breaking out in hives. Doesn’t help that what’s in the employee handbook doesn’t exactly match what I see in the office!

          1. Frozen Ginger*

            Agreed! I actually can’t *find* a dress code guide for office workers (I work in a company that’s half desk jobs, half manufacturing). I think it was because of the company’s recent attempt to appeal more to younger hires by being more flexible, so they just went with “Scrap it and let lower management handle it as they see fit”, which does show imo good confidence in your management system, but does lead to a lot of confusion.

            My personal example: This is my first “real” job out of college, and I was told the dress code was a little more casual than business casual. So like most people I know, I went out and bought a good chunk of business casual outfits (to supplement my relaxed attire of college) that were for the most part (because of $) not the most comfortable or stylish. Imagine how I felt on my second week when I see a coworker, who’s got just a year of seniority on me, wearing not only jeans but a graphic t-shirt! So I still try and dress more toward business casual than casual, but on a rough day with no meetings, I’ll think, “I just don’t want the inconvenience; jeans and a plain t-shirt with Chucks it is.”

        3. CBH*

          I’m a woman in my early 40s and would love this topic to be covered. I dress in a classic style. I sometimes feel out of touch with my younger coworkers. To them I dress frumpy (conservative business casual) where I feel they are too casual. If you are going out after work change at the end of the day, no need to dress in a clubbing outfit with a jacket over it! I also find it difficult to find places to shop as stores seem to go more casual. (I sound so old don’t I?). There used to be a national chain by me that catered to business attire but they closed down a few years ago.

          1. heatherskib*

            Plus it’s harder when even women’s blogs that used to cater to professional women’s style are showing these tops, or tops with other cut outs or open back, etc. Ex: Caphillstyle featured an open back blouse yesterday, today’s Memorandum is off the shoulder with exposed midriff, and multiple styles of hers over the past week have not been work appropriate.
            But there’s also variations on the theme that may be more or less appropriate for work… Example- the Kittell Open Sleeve Blouse is closed to the end of the shoulder, but open down the length of the arm and ties at a 3/4 sleeve. It’s crepe instead of tee shirt material, so is generally dressier and relatively modest. In many cases, this is one of those cases where you have to call things as you see them.

            1. Another Lawyer*

              Yeah, and more conservative clothing stores have a ton of cut outs/open backs/cold shoulders right now. I had to do some spring shopping for more casual work clothes (e.g. not a suit, just needed some blouses/dresses) and it was miserable

            2. BPT*

              I don’t think every post Capitol Hill Style does is supposed to be appropriate for the office – she certainly posts spring dresses/beachwear/non-office clothing as well. Just because she’s posting something doesn’t mean she’s endorsing it to wear to the office.

              1. heatherskib*

                Yes, but she has posted about wearing open backed sweaters, etc during the winter. I called it out specifically in one case because the sweater had zero back on it- she said she just wears it over a tank top. but that is still questionable about appropriateness. Unfortunately when nearly every part of a woman’s body has been sexualized/fetishized anything can be too much.

                1. fposte*

                  @Paul–fashion. Most of these are about aesthetics, not warmth. (I’m not opposed to aesthetics, so this isn’t a complaint.)

            3. OhBehave*

              I recently purchased a blouse and didn’t realize until I got home that the sleeves were split from shoulder to wrist (it was tacked together at the elbow so not a complete split). I didn’t try it on because I knew it would fit. I love the blouse so I sewed up the slits and now I am happy to wear it with anything.

              Sometimes a little ingenuity is helpful. It also irks me that my husband can go into any shop, find his pants size, and they fit perfectly! Arghh.

          2. Chinook*

            CBH – check out eshakti dot com. The site was recommended to me by commentators here (and I swear AAM needs to ask them to sponsor one of her posts because she has earned them enough customers). They have dresses, tops and pants that can be as conservative as you want because you can choose hemlines and necklines. I think they even do jackets (but not a complete suit – think mix and match).

            As a bonus, most of their stuff comes with pockets and bra strap keeps, something that is hard to find in most stores.

              1. I Herd the Cats*

                I have three dresses from eShakti. They are gorgeous. My advice (based on my experience) would be to size up if you’re unsure about something. Also as someone pointed out below, they have a VERY generous first-try…. and a solid follow-up discount too! FWIW my three dresses were made from their stretch cotton (poplin?), cut and styled conservatively. WITH POCKETS!!

            1. OhBehave*

              If I remember correctly, they have a generous sign-in bonus for first timers. Zulily is also another great place to shop. They have lots to chose from that changes often, so if you don’t find something you like this week, check back in another week or so.

          3. CBH*

            I wasn’t expecting to get so many subcomments to my comment reply! Thanks to those who responded to my post. We all want to be fashionable and trendy even in the work place its just finding the respectable balance that seems to have everyone with conflicting thoughts as to whats appropriate

          4. BananaPants*

            If you’re in the US, Dress Barn is my go-to for both business casual and business attire.

            1. Jadelyn*

              I always had this mental image of Dress Barn as frumpy stuff for women my mom’s age. Do they have reasonably modern/fashionable clothes as well?

              1. OxfordComma*

                I went there out of desperation last fall when I needed a skirt in a hurry. They actually have some very cute, very affordable clothes. The customer service was great too.

                1. OhBehave*

                  Agreed! They have a great selection as does Christopher Banks, which I use more for basics.

            2. ancolie*

              Seriously, they have great stuff but WHO thought that “Dress Barn” was a good name???

        4. BPT*

          I would suggest looking at Capitol Hill Style! Especially her older posts (like from 4-6 years ago – she’s been in law school so her posting has been more sporadic/not as work focused lately). But she has some great posts about intern dress codes, what to wear when you’re starting work, and generally clothes that are appropriate for the office, especially for young women, without looking too matronly.

        5. Queen of the File*

          I agree–this topic is so hard to discuss. In our office I feel like the conversation is often an unspoken disagreement about whether someone (usually a woman) either looks too sexy or not sexy enough. We get complaints all the time about a particular young woman’s slightly-above-knee pencil skirts being too short, button-down long-sleeve tops being too tight, yet there’s an older, less conventionally attractive woman who wears the same kinds of things and nobody complains about her outfits. At the same time we have a very overweight person who tends to wear more drapey/elastic garments rather than tailored pieces and people feel the need to complain about that person’s “unprofessional” outfits as well, even though they appear tidy and covered and not out of line at all to me. Professionalism in general seems so difficult to get your head around when considering how it often clashes with gender identity, cultural background, fashion, class, body image, age, etc.

          1. MyFakeNameIsLaura*

            this exactly. What’s “sexual” is usually 100% dependent on A) the looks and body type of the woman in question and B) what cis hetero men consider sexy (after that every other perception falls into line esp in business/corporate and politics). So I really hate dress code discussions because even though I went to business school and was indoctrinated on the norms, they all feel very Mad Men sexist to me due to the shifting goalposts. Women already make less money than men do in the workplace and our clothes are harder to shop for plus generally more expensive so it really really sucks all around.

            1. Queen of the File*

              Yes! It has started to vaguely gross me out that everyone else’s business dress is based on an image of “success” that is rich white maleness (no offence, rich white guys). I just want to feel reasonably like I can be myself at work, and not have to worry about spending my time or money meeting anyone’s standards of attractiveness or masculinity/femininity. I think things are slowly changing–even in this thread opinions of what’s appropriate are all over the map–but oh man is it difficult to navigate in the meantime.

        1. OhBehave*

          I think it really depends upon the fabric and decoration. I don’t think this kind of cut out (very minimal) is a problem at all. I think it’s interesting and pretty.

          I am currently rewriting our employee manual and have to take dress code. Yikes!

      2. Mimi*

        Sexier by whose definiton? This seems like one of those things that only affect women and make no real sense.

        Its shoulders. Women have shoulders. Now personally I think the one from the link isnt office appropriate because of the material (well maybe in a casual office) but I have a black one in chiffon that is a lovely very appropriate blouse.

        1. Sarah*

          Well, men have shoulders too, but I’m not sure I have ever even once seen the shoulders of a man in my office, and I can’t think of a work appropriate way it would happen…

      3. puzzld*

        I’ve never seen a cut out like that before at work. Today, two different staff members showed up in them. One very like the image posted and the other more of a long slit in the sleeve. Thanks loads AAM.

        1. Janice*

          I don’t think it is! Lots of people look sexy in ‘business attire’ and I think there was a whole post here at one point about office crushes that indicate lots of people find businesswear very attractive on the right person.

          The issue is when you give the impression that you are *trying* to look sexy. Because (for most people) that shouldn’t be your focus when dressing for work, so it indicates misplaced priorities.

      4. Darkitect*

        Well, I’m definitely late to the party on this one, but…
        I work in Florida. For sustainability (“green”) reasons, my office thermostat is set to 78 degrees; since the building HVAC system is inadequate, it’s a hot, humid 78. Sleeveless shells are allowed in my office but I do not personally feel comfortable in them because I do not like to expose my upper arms. For me, my cold shoulder tops are not shirts with “cut-outs”, they are shells with sleeves attached to it for modesty. There are substantial variations in this style. It’s like saying all skirts are bad for work because some are really short.

      5. linzava*

        I’ve occasionally worn cold shoulder shirts to the office, but didn’t think about it as “sexier.” Now that I read this, I’m realizing that they really are inappropriate for the workplace, especially since I work with mostly men. I’ll just save my cutoffs for the weekends. Thank you.

    3. DataQueen*

      Oops, that autocorrected – which is the worst because the sentence didn’t make sense to begin with – but I meant that cold-shoulder tops were meant to “sexualize” the shoulders.

      1. Jessica*

        “Specialize” actually kind of made sense, though! Those tops do communicate that your shoulders are your specialty.

      2. Artemesia*

        Since my introduction to these cut outs was in little kids’ clothes I didn’t actually associate it with ‘sexy’ — interesting.

          1. Van Wilder*

            I think when people say girls’ clothes are inappropriate, they mean that similar clothes on an adult would be inappropriate. There’s nothing wrong with shoulder cut outs on a child.

            1. Emi.*

              Ehh, I can see it being done in a sexy way, which would be inappropriate. A lot of little girls’ clothes in stores near me are just smaller versions of overly sexy older girls’ clothes (which are still inappropriate!). There’s nothing wrong with children showing their shoulders, but it shouldn’t be in a “ooh, look at my sexy shoulders!” way.

              1. TL -*

                I think by definition little girls can’t be sexy, so for me, saying they’re wearing sexy clothes is very odd. Unless they’re dressed up like Julia Roberts from Pretty Woman, they’re just wearing clothes.

                1. Emi.*

                  What I meant is clothes with features that are clearly copied from sexy adult clothes. (The best example of this I can think of is those Hallowe’en costumes that, instead of being children’s witch and fairy costumes, are children’s knockoffs of adults’ sexy-witch and sexy-fairy costumes.) They don’t make the kids look sexy (although they usually do make them look dorky), but they present a warped idea of what women are supposed to look like and how soon.

        1. Michele*

          I don’t see them as sexier, just super casual. It would be appropriate if you bartended or something like that, but for most work situations, especially an office, anything with cutouts is like something with rips or holes–just too casual.

          1. Jessesgirl72*

            Casual is mostly correlated with the fabric. The example picture is really casual, because it’s a waffle knit tee with shoulders cut out. The ones I’ve been seeing for at least 2 years now (and I hate) are blouses made out of the material you’d normally see true business (without the casual!) wear made from.

            1. LBK*

              Is it really true that casual correlates to fabric? I think you could certainly wear a shinier, silkier top to work if it’s an appropriate cut, but once you take the shoulders out I think it’s going to read like a club shirt. I’m not imagining that these “cold shoulder” tops are, like, Oxfords with holes in them.

                1. LBK*

                  Oh geez. I should’ve known. I actually just read a hilarious article giving some examples of absolutely ridiculous trends in women’s shirts, including random cutouts on otherwise professional-looking shirts. One of the hypothetical criteria for such outlandish outfits was “Looks like something you would see on a lady pirate”.

            2. Michele*

              I agree that sometimes casual is associated with fabric, like the black cotton skirt that I wouldn’t consider to be appropriate for work, but cutouts like that are also casual and not something that I would wear at work.

      3. I Herd the Cats*

        To me, that’s the issue — things with cutouts (shoulders, belly, back) are somehow “sexier” and also (downstream in comments) make me think of clubwear — also inappropriate.

        I’m loving reading the clothing comments. Office attire is tricky — especially for women. I’m older and dress more conservatively (did so even when younger) in a more conservative-attire city. I see questionable attire choices and sometimes it’s hard to really define what the issue is.

    4. The IT Manager*

      I agree with Alison and the LW that that shirt is not office appropriate.

      Although I don’t think tank tops are office attire even though for non-work purposes I’ve started wearing them already and expect to continue through at least September.

      1. Michele*

        It is weird. Where I work, tank tops are OK, but probably because I am over 40, I just don’t consider them to be appropriate work attire. I would never say anything to someone wearing one because they aren’t against the dress code, but I would never wear one myself.

        1. Parenthetically*

          I would never wear a tank top to work without something covering it, but several of my over-40 coworkers wear them once the weather gets hot! I find it interesting that my younger coworkers (I’m a teacher in a private school) are the ones hewing more closely to “professional dress” — ties, dressy slacks, dress shirts, cardigans or blazers — and the over-40 ones are the ones always trying to get away with jeans.

          1. EmilyG*

            They’re probably trying to differentiate themselves from the students! I had a high school teacher who wore a suit every day, and we all thought it was so funny, but now as a mid-career professional who still gets mistaken for a student sometimes, I know what he was trying to do…

            1. Parenthetically*

              That’s probably true! I started working here when I was (a young-looking) 26, AND the students wear uniforms, so I feel like I need to be at least one step more dressed up than they are.

            2. Kj*

              Yeah, I work in schools, though I am not a teacher, and my first year of work, I got stopped and asked for my hall pass. I was mid-20s and very embarrassed! I now have my badge displayed overtly and switched from carrying my supplies in a purple backpack to carrying them in a briefcase. I was dressed professionally for my job when I was stopped, but given the nature of the school, some of the kids were dressed in similar ways!

          2. Whats In A Name*

            So I went to a conference a couple weeks ago and the materials explicity said the dress code was business casual but the presenters and key notes would be expected to dress business.

            I know some offices have skewed to business casual including trouser-style jeans so I wasn’t surprised to see those, but I was surprised at the number of bedazzled pockets, distressed/ripped denim and workout pants/tennis shoe combos that I saw…and the majority dressed this way were over 40. The younger professionals (early 20s – mid 30s) were in appropriate slacks/skirts/blazers/cardigans for business casual.

            1. Xarcady*

              I’m over 40, and am having a hard time finding tops that aren’t bedazzled to high heaven. “Oh, look,” I’ll think, “There’s a pretty blue top!” And then I walk over to the rack, and the top is pretty all right, and the neckline is suitable for work, but the entire front is plastered with glittery stuff.

              I’m plus-sized, and I don’t know if the smaller sizes get the same treatment, but at work, I’m trying to de-emphasize my chest, not draw attention to it with sequins, glitter and rhinestones. It calls enough attention to itself all on its own, thank you very much.

              Which is just my long-winded way of saying that finding clothes that aren’t covered in glitter is getting more and more difficult for some sizes/age groups.

              1. Janice*

                This soooo much! The problems with finding professional plus size clothes for curvy people are multitude. Sometimes it isn’t about ‘choice of attire’ as trying desperately to find something to cover yourself that isn’t a t-shirt or a muumuu. Sparkles are the least of my worries.

          3. Mephyle*

            If they’re some years past 40 and dressing for the heat, they may be coping with hot flashes.

      2. eplawyer*

        There’s a fine line between tank top and shell. It also depends what you are wearing it with. If you wear a tank top but a jacket or cardigan over it (because offices are set on “meat locker” in the summer), that’s fine.

        Same with this shirt. A few discrete design cut outs on the shoulder would be fine. But no shoulder at all and drooping puts it into the way too casual for work mode. Unless covered with something else.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          I think part of the line is the width of the shoulder straps, with at least two inches being a shell-under-cardigan-in-meatlocker norm but spaghetti straps too narrow. The top in the photo is basically a spaghetti strap camisole with extra sleeves half attached to it, sort of like opera gloves.

          I had a couple of silk shells with small cutouts along the neckline that I feel functioned like decorative embroidery, much as cut outs along cuffs. So I don’t think any cut out is by definition too sexy for business casual.

          1. Jessesgirl72*

            It also can depend on the shape of the person wearing it.

            I am thinking of the dress I have hanging on my closet door now, to wear to church on Sunday. It has a keyhole neckline. The keyhole is high enough and my cleavage starts low enough that the only skin showing is what’s just below my collar bone- no cleavage or hints of cleavage.

            On someone else, the exact same dress might be more revealing.

            1. my two cents*

              hahaha Yes, this! The same tank/camisole might be a-ok in the office on my ‘well-endowed’ 6′ tall female friend, but might be far too risque for 5’1″ me to even wear out in public, let alone the office.

            2. Amber T*

              As someone with “high cleavage” it would probably look scandalous (and not very church appropriate) on me!

    5. Uncivil Engineer*

      I don’t think cold-shoulder tops are appropriate either, though I can’t explain my reasoning vey well. I suppose it’s similar to how slacks and skirts are appropriate but knee-length shorts and capris are not. The shorts and capris aren’t showing any more skin, they’ve just been categorized as more casual so they’re not appropriate. (I understand that some offices allow these but mine definitely does not.)

      1. DataQueen*

        I’ve always had difficulty explaining to New-To-Workplacers why skirts are okay but not shorts, even skirts that are shorter than say a Bermuda short. And there’s no real answer other than “cause you just don’t”

        On capris though – in the clan digger style, sure, they fit in the same category as shorts. But a skinny pair of ankle or crop pants or patterned capris? If those weren’t work appropriate, Ann Taylor would be out of business! Plus, id have nothing to wear – haven’t worn a full length pant in years!

        1. AnotherAlison*

          Cropped pants have conditions on them for me. I currently own a black pair and a lavender pair with a light pattern. I think the black ones are fine for most work days, with black flats and a nice top. I will wear the lavender ones and don’t think they’re inappropriate (if someone else had them on), but I always feel like they’re better suited for the weekend than work. My general rule is that I try to dress equivalently as the men in my male-dominated office, and to me, my lavender pants’ equivalent would be if the men were wearing linen “resort wear” pants and slip on sockless shoes. They don’t do that.

        2. Parenthetically*

          I think shorts are inappropriate because they’re decidedly casual wear. Skirts and dresses can read casual as well — like a tshirt-fabric maxi skirt, and I would call that inappropriate for a business-casual office.

        3. BananaPants*

          My office’s business casual dress code actually forbids cropped or capris. It gets difficult to find office-appropriate pants in the summer when capris and crops are the primary option in stores.

          Our younger female engineers violate this rule constantly – but around here if you’re young, female, and slim you can get away with wearing just about anything you want. If you’re beyond 30ish or plus-size (both of which sadly apply to me), there are anonymous complaints to HR.

          1. AnotherAlison*

            So, you’ve got to have an engineer in your office who owns 5 pairs of khaki pants that have all shrunk to be about 2 inches too short. . .ours sits right outside my office. Is that forbidden or allowed?

            (Some “cropped” pants actually hit me at my ankles, which is why I ask. There would be no difference between me and my coworker’s pants’ length.)

      2. Is it Performance Art*

        I don’t think they are workplace-appropriate either. In my case, a cutout without anything underneath looks unprofessional. I also think they sort of look like that ’80’s fad with the sleeveless bodysuit and off the shoulder sweater with the socks over the tights. It was a bad look and is probably part of the reason I don’t like the cold shoulder look at all.

        1. Jessica*

          Flashdance! But to achieve that falling-off-the-shoulder look, as I recall, you had to tear the ribbed collar out of your sweatshirt. If your garments have big pieces torn out of them, that’s another clue that they may not be appropriate for the workplace.

      3. Myrin*

        For me personally, I think it’s because they have holes in them. Doesn’t matter that the sleeves aren’t raggedly torn open but neatly sewed that way, it looks kaputt to me which just isn’t work-appropriate.

      4. Mirax*

        This is hilarious for me to read because in my first position as a PA, when I came in in the summer wearing pinstriped shorts (made out of suit cloth) over sheer tights and high heels, my boss told me the shorts were great and I should get more similar ones if I could!

        1. specialist*

          I had a receptionist that pulled this in a medispa I co-owned. I was not happy. No shorts no matter what material.

    6. Casuan*

      There are some styles I would consider appropriate if the office culture was the right fit [pun intended].
      The problem is that even if the the office culture is okay with it [repeat pun resisted], the style might not be appropriate for clients & other business with whom the fashionable office interacts.
      That said, I don’t think the open-shoulder top is appropriate.

      1. Casuan*

        posted too early…
        It’s a question of image.
        Also the styles of these tops are so varied that there would be too much policing done on the dress code: how much visible shoulder is allowed, length, material & do we really need to specify no visible bra straps? What if one has very visible tan lines?
        And what about when the men’s version becomes a thing?

        1. Emi.*

          And what about when the men’s version becomes a thing?

          Hopefully, WW3 will break out before then, so we’ll all be bundled up in nuclear winter coats and won’t have to look at their shoulders.

    7. TheLazyB*

      I mostly wear sleeveless tops in the office (i get too very hot otherwise) and i still think those cut-away-shoulder tops are way inappropriate. I saw someone wearing one in an office the other day that was split all the way down her arms-it was a lovely top, but totally inappropriate office wear.

      1. Jessesgirl72*

        That is how I’ve felt about them too- and am amazed this is now only a Thing now, when I’ve been rejected them for at least two years.

        I wear sleeveless blouses all the time, but the cold shoulders just seem inappropriate to me. Probably because they are drawing the focus to the bare shoulders in a way that sleeveless does not.

        1. toxi*

          I don’t understand this logic at all. If the shoulders are naked, they’re naked, no matter what else is going on with the rest of the arm. I wouldn’t find a thong bikini more appropriate than a one-piece swimsuit that just had the butt cheeks cut out.

          1. mcr-red*

            I agree, I don’t understand why if sleeveless blouses are OK, cold shoulders are not. Because either way, your shoulders are hanging out.

              1. Emi.*

                Cutouts have an “Ooh la la, look at this!” effect that the garment just not being there doesn’t.

    8. Jesmlet*

      This all makes me very grateful for my workplace because this quasi-Puritanical nonsense just isn’t adding up in my head. If I can bare my whole arm, what is so unprofessional about showing a tiny part of it? People wear lipstick to ‘sexualize/specialize (lol)’ their lips and we don’t ban that. People wear heels to accentuate their butts and chest and make their legs look longer and we don’t ban those. Why is a cutout over your shoulder considered over the line? If cutouts are banned, then surely even the hint of cleavage must be banned as well right? What about push-up bras?

      I know I’m a little over the top here but I honestly just don’t get it.

      1. Biff*

        I’m usually the most conservative person (dress wise) in a group, and I’m struggling to say no to these tops. I think they look nice, and would be easy to dress up or down.

      2. Kathleen Adams*

        Look, there’s nothing inherently sexy about shorts, either – and there’s literally nothing sexy about caftans – or muumuus. But that doesn’t make them appropriate for an office.

        1. mcr-red*

          I used to own a pair of shorts that were dress pant material and cut the exact same way as a dress pant would be, except they ended at the knee, that I wore at work with a dressy blouse and heels. I don’t understand why that would be inappropriate but a skirt that ended at the knee would be fine.

          1. Whats In A Name*

            I agree with you here that these are the same material and just as dressy as pants/skirts. However, here is the where the problem comes in – they become a drain on management and HR. A while ago I cited leggings as an example and why we had to just finally outlaw them at the company I work with now.

            You wear your dressy, city shorts. So the next day someone comes in with their khaki shorts on and says “but mcr-red wore shorts yesterday” and you spend 10 minutes explaining the difference and then, in some cases, have to send them home to change, so there goes more production time. Then 10 more people do it. And then some guy says that we’re discriminating because they don’t make shorts in dress pant material for men and it’s unfair so he goes to HR to lodge a formal complaint….and so on and so on and so on…. with thousands of employees there is just no good way to monitor and it just doesn’t feel right to fire someone for violating a dress code one time.

            And while it’s easy to say “just manage them” every time they do something wrong it’s hard. And when it’s 10at some point its counter-productive. So eventually you just have to make a No Shorts Rule. Which sucks. Believe me. But if you get too specific on dress code…x shorts are ok, but yz shorts are not ok, but q shorts can be appropriate in the case of v is a job in and of itself.

      3. Saturnalia*

        I’m with you, it is a weird line to draw and I don’t really get it. But my experience with business casual has been one office with a pretty wide range of acceptable which ended up being “anywhere from sweats/PJ’s/yoga pants to suits without ties” so in my experience one gets away with most anything.

        Personal experience aside, I don’t find the cold shoulder blouse any sexier than a v neck, cap sleeve, etc. I have weird feelings about random parts of my body being sexualized by observers, and that is somehow my problem to mitigate. I’m pretty feisty about this, but I also know I feel more confident if my attire blends enough to fit in while still standing out as “my style” so despite my protestations and feistiness I always enjoy these comment threads.

      4. Vin Packer*

        Yeah, when you really start examining the details of dress codes, you have to contend with the fact that it’s pretty much all silly.

        Following one means accepting that they are irrational but that irrationality is part of being human and so we have to go with it to some extent.*

        *the “to some extent” caveat is because I do think people need to push back on dress codes that subtly shame women for having bodies, black people of all genders for having hair, etc.

        1. fposte*

          Yeah, that’s where I am, and I’m the same with language. You can make it somewhat more reasonable, but you can never make it logical.

        2. JustaTech*

          One of the great things about working in the sciences is that our dress codes are almost always safety first appearance … last? (The joys of non-client-facing work in a lab coat.)
          Close toed shoes – to protect your feet from spills and broken glass.
          In the clean facility there are a million rules (no cosmetics, no bare skin below the waist, designated facility shoes, no nail polish, hair has to be contained under a bonnet and hood) and they’re annoying, but every single one of them is for a solid scientific reason and applies to men and women alike. Heck, you can’t tell the men from the women in the facility unless you hear them talk.

          1. Vin Packer*

            Oh yeah–this is definitely an exception to “they’re all silly”–safety stuff around food, radiactive materials, etc.

            But anytime you start making rules about “no seeing shoulders unless there are also upper arms”: silly. But then, so is “wear a piece of cloth around your neck tied in a particular way that hangs down in front of the buttons on your shirt.”

    9. Just Another Techie*

      The shirt linked in the letter would also wonderfully solve the problems I have with finding clothes that fit. I work out a lot, and something that fits my chest and waist perfectly will strain or even tear at the shoulder or bicep. To get something that goes comfortably across my shoulders I have to either buy men’s clothes or buy them so baggy they fit like a tent over my chest and belly. Even if the top by itself isn’t office appropriate you can easily make it appropriate with an open front cardigan or shoulder shrug over it right?

      1. Twenty Points for the Copier*

        My main takeaway has also been that I need some of these shirts. I love my shoulders but shirts do not.

        Though I also work from home most of the time. I think I’d be wary of wearing a shoulder cut out to the office since it seems more “fashion” than work. It would probably be fine under something, but I worry that it would get twisted up.

        1. Just Another Techie*

          I mean, my coworkers show up to the office in board shorts and stained Simpsons tee-shirts so I’m pretty sure cold-shoulder tops would be okay for me! If anything, I’d feel overdressed. (Today I’m wearing dark wash jeans, wedge heels, and a solid color teeshirt from Gap and I feel overdressed!)

    10. That Would Be a Good Band Name*

      I tend to be on the super-conservative side of dress code and for some reason have no issue with the cut-out shoulders provided that the top would be the appropriate amount of dressy otherwise. I really wish I could articulate why. I would object to sleeveless, but not to these.

  3. H.C.*

    OP2 – agree w you & AAM that cold shoulder tops/dresses typically aren’t appropriate in a biz casual setting.

    As an aside, I don’t really get them from a fashion standpoint either (to borrow from Cloudy w a Chance of Meatballs, is it summer in the shoulders but winter everywhere else?)

    1. H.C.*

      2 clarifications to my initial comment

      1. if workplace allows bare arm attire otherwise, the cold shoulder tops are fine

      2. the Cloudy quote was originally about vests, but to me it seems fitting (ha!) for these too

    2. Wendy Darling*

      I don’t get the cold shoulder thing either but I accidentally own a few because it turns out sometimes you can’t tell from a straight-on front or back view of the garment, and I don’t tend to read clothing descriptions carefully (just skim for fabric content). I tried the shirt on and was like WHERE IS THE REST OF MY SLEEVE? Usually those ones are less of a cutout and more… the seam on the top of the sleeve just isn’t connected. Luckily for me I guess, I live in an area that’s really casual and it is a-ok to wear tank tops or sundresses to work, so the cold shoulder thing is fine.

      I *really* don’t get it with long-sleeved tops and dresses. I’m like, but… my shoulders are gonna be cold.

    3. TheLazyB*

      I get way annoyed by short sleeved jumpers for the same reason. I also saw short sleeved coats last winter. Just, NO.

      1. Buffay the Vampire Layer*

        Oh but short sleeve sweaters make so much sense! I’m a fairly busty woman so I wear a lot of knit tops to avoid looking like a tent. Short sleeve sweaters let me do that year round!

        1. Aveline*

          I am in my 40s and a 36C/D. I live on sweaters. I cannot find blazers/jackets that really fit well. Thankfully, where I live this look is far more professional than what most people wear.

    4. Detective Amy Santiago*

      That’s also how I feel about open-toed boots. Like, if it’s boot weather, shouldn’t your toes be covered?

      I am glad the OP included a photo though, because I was picturing something completely different. I can’t find a good picture of what I was thinking, but I have a top that has a little cut-out design at the neck that I’ve worn to work with no issues.

      1. Mirax*

        My thing with cold-shoulder tops and open-toed boots is, “oh my god, it’s November and it’s still like 75F and sunny out there!” Like, I want to be in fall clothing, it feels wrong that this late in the year it’s not cold enough for sleeves and boots, so I’m gonna do the best I can to approximate it with cutouts to keep me comfy.

        It’s basically fashion responding to how global warming is ruining seasonal attire.

        1. Detective Amy Santiago*

          That actually makes sense. I’m not fond of the aesthetic, but at least I can appreciate the reasons why other people might.

          I don’t think I’ll ever understand fleece sleep shorts though.

      2. Snargulfuss*

        I know I’m probably in the minority since those boots with the toes cut out are in fashion right now, but I find them absolutely and completely ridiculous.

    5. Garrett*

      To me it’s a fashion thing, akin to bell bottoms or hoop skirts; there’s no practical reason for it, but it’s what the design world has decided is “in”. I don’t think they look bad and in fact can be a nice change of pace, but agree they are way too casual for most workplaces.

      1. Lady Bug*

        Bell bottoms have a purpose, they make your butt/thighs look smaller by balancing out the width around your hips/butt/thighs with a similar width around your ankles, which would normally be much smaller .

        1. Jessesgirl72*

          The same with hoop skirts. They made the waist look smaller.

          And yes, I prefer my pants in bootcut/bell. It makes a straight line.

    6. LoiraSafada*

      I find ‘cold shoulder’ tops incredibly dowdy and very Real Housewives-ish. Definitely not sexy or stylish.

  4. LawCat*

    #4, I wouldn’t rule students out because they are coming from elsewhere. You could miss out on some great candidates. I was involved in hiring interns one year and we had a couple remote candidates. One from the opposite coast was excellent all around and beat out some local candidates. She did a great job.

    Many schools have programs to aid students too.

    1. in-house lawyer*

      Yes, many schools provide some sort of assistance for students taking internships, especially for those doing public service/nonprofit work! Students generally know the deal when they are applying to this kind of position and make their own arrangements for expenses in order to get work experience at the organizations they choose. It is good to clarify the situation but I wouldn’t expect it to dissuade many applicants.

      1. Another Lawyer*

        Absolutely! My law school paid me through a fellowship when I worked at a public service internship for a summer.

  5. Manders*

    My west coast fashion sense strikes again–it didn’t even occur to me that a cold shoulder top would be inappropriate, so long as there’s as much material on the top of the shoulder as a work-appropriate blouse. A top with no shoulders, visible bra straps, or spaghetti straps would be over the line in my book but a cold shoulder wouldn’t even register as unusual to me.

    My fashion pet peeve this year is those tops with no shoulder and a little non-supportive band around the upper arm. How does that even work? Wouldn’t it slide down your body every time you move? Is there glue on the inside or something?

    1. Gaia*

      I mean, I’m on the West Coast too and in a pretty casual office and this would be wildly inappropriate here (and every other WC office I’ve worked in) specifically because of the cut-outs. Even where tanks were allowed, cut outs were not okay.

      1. neverjaunty*

        Agree this isn’t a “west coast” thing. As AAM says, it’s not casual so much as cut-outs. (Also, why would you want cold shoulders?”

        1. Hrovitnir*

          I find them visually appealing, and if we shift well out of office wear there are plenty of ridiculous things that people wear to look nice.

          Specifically on “cold shoulders”, I find it quite pleasant for, say, going to dinner and feeling like wearing long sleeves with a light fabric… but I will still get too warm. Always. So cool air on my shoulders is nice. :D

          1. Lissa*

            Haha, that makes sense! For me, I am always cold, especially my arms/shoulders, so would probably not wear one unless it was really hot out!

      2. AJ*

        If wearing a sleeveless top is okay, cut-outs are fine. So many dress codes feel like they are policing what women wear more than creating a professional work environment. I also understand there’s a reality to being a woman in the workplace and that, regardless of the rules, there are different expectations compared to men. In an ideal world, if you work’s clothing ethic says shoulders are okay, then cutout shoulders should also be okay.

    2. H.C.*

      another West Coaster here who feels otherwise about shoulder cut outs in biz setting (except maybe casual Friday)

    3. Manders*

      I should add that I can throw on a blazer over my cold shoulder top and it looks like a normal shell, and I’m not client-facing. I would probably make different choices if I were expected to be the face of my firm, but I’m in a field where clients of the firm don’t actually want to see me (and in some cases, they’d rather not know that I exist).

          1. sorbus*

            Great, now I’m going to spend the rest of the day wondering what part of a printer is most analogous to shoulders.

      1. Gaia*

        Also not client facing and still could not get away with this without a blazer or cardigan because no one wants to see sexy shoulders in the workplace

    4. SignalLost*

      West Coaster too. I don’t even think those would be appropriate in the extremely casual office I used to work in (as in, people used to wear sweats and pajama pants to work). But I definitively associate them as clubwear (perils of being a bouncer when they were first popular) and haven’t seen them done in a fabric/style I would read as professional.

    5. Al Lo*

      In my (casual, wear jeans many days) office, I would (appropriateness-wise, even if not my-style-wise) wear this one, this one, this one, or this one, for instance, with nice jeans or dress pants. Even something like this — I wouldn’t necessarily wear because I don’t really like it, but it would be fine at my work.

      1. Elemeno P.*

        I like that first batch, and could see those at work for sure. The vast majority of my work outfits are sleeveless dresses that I pair with cardigans, which I only take off if I have to do anything outside (it’s Florida), but I do see bare arms pretty often. If sleeves aren’t required, I don’t see why these would be a problem. Like anything else, it’s more about material and fit. The one in the post looks super casual, but the ones you posted look polished.

      2. Karyn*

        I have one like that third example and I’ve worn it on casual Friday – and gotten a number of compliments. But I feel like that one isn’t necessarily a “cold shoulder” top so much as an “open sleeve” top. YMMV.

      3. Blue*

        I can definitely picture a coworker from my old (casual, wear jeans many days) office wearing one of the dressier ones to work, and I don’t think I would even blink at it. But I do think that’s an exceptional case dependent on office culture and her style – I would expect her to be choosy about the top and accessorize tastefully.

      4. Newby*

        I also work somewhere casual where those would be ok. Cut outs definitely make a shirt more casual, but I don’t really understand why they would make one inappropriate (so long as the area exposed by the cutout is not somewhere that the dress code would require to be covered. Cutouts that show cleavage or midriff are obviously not ok, but to say that showing arm or shoulder is not ok is weird to me. It is even stranger to say that it is not showing arm or shoulder that is inappropriate, but the way it is shown.

    6. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      West coast, and I agree with you Manders—I think there are region and sector specific exceptions. Cut out shoulders at an SF-based legal nonprofit? Definitely not ok at any level. For admin staff or organizers at a grassroots Oakland or Fresno nonprofit with a community organizing core? Possibly ok depending on the group—I’ve seen these tops in the workplace as far back as 6 years ago, and they were considered part of local fashion, not casual sexy wear, at one nonprofit and were absolutely inappropriate/verboten at another.

      But I do think the prevailing norm for biz-cas workplaces across all sectors is that these tops are too informal in the same way that t-shirts are too informal.

      1. Wendy Darling*

        I’ve worked in west coast tech for my entire professional life and the dress code is generally “don’t be naked”, so I’m actually kind of surprised people are so firmly against the cold shoulder thing! But I will concede that my sense of professional dress is permanently skewed from working in a city and industry where you are regularly admonished *not* to wear a suit to interviews because it will flag you as a possible bad culture fit (which is its own kettle of ridiculous fish).

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Same! There are a lot of workplaces where they’re not seen as risqué or informal, but I guess it’s a YMMV thing…

        2. JS*

          Lmao my experience too. The last tech company I worked for had so much branded company merch and the sweatshirts were coveted however I spoke with the brand team once who said they would never make sweat pants because they knew the engineers would wear nothing else but the full sweat suits everyday LOL

          1. Can't Sit Still*

            But then they could have their engineers in uniform, just like IBM did. Grey, even. LOL

        3. Security SemiPro*

          East Coast tech here. It’s not showing swimsuit areas, it’d be fine for my office. Maybe a little dressy, since it shows that you thought about what you put on before getting dressed.

          1. Wendy Darling*

            I wore mostly jersey dresses and leggings or jeans + plain shirt + cardigan to work every day — basically the exact same stuff I wore to grad school — and I was considered one of the more formally dressed people in my office. I’m looking for jobs now and one of the considerations is that if I take a job someplace that actually requires business casual they need to pay enough that I can afford an entire new work wardrobe, because I own literally one suitable outfit right now.

        4. Lora*

          Ha! It’s similar in Cambridge MA – people should wear a suit to interviews but on a real workday you wear jeans or khakis and if you wear a tee shirt it must have either an employer or vendor logo on it or a fancy college logo; otherwise, wear a nice shirt. Only regulatory agents and Finance people wear suits.

          1. Saturnalia*

            Ah, good to hear this – I’m a recent transplant to Boston area from a tech co out west, and reading through some of the comments I was starting to get a little sad about saying goodbye to my days of lazy office casual attire :-)

            1. Lora*

              The aesthetic for tech around here is very much, “you didn’t hire me to look pretty, you hired me to be smart”. I have seen Google employees dressed nicer than me, and I tend towards slacks and shell-type blouses with pumps for everyday wear, but they seem to be administrative or senior management people from out of town.

              The important thing here is that you can’t judge people at ALL by what they look like, and the Finance people sometimes forget that if they aren’t from here. I dress pretty girly, and a lot of people who wear suits have a hard time reconciling my appearance with the fact that I run big pieces of steel that can go boom and do a lot of complicated math. My fellow geeks often (not always) understand this, but the people who wear suits all day, not so much. I enjoy surprising them, it’s one of the rare pleasures of my job to see a Finance guy’s face change to shock when it turns out I’m the one presenting a highly technical thing with no notes and no PowerPoint.

        5. Kj*

          Yeah, I’m pretty sure my husband could get away with just about any clothing that covers his body enough to make him decent. Heck, on AAM, we had a dude-in-tech-dressed-as-JESUS story!

      2. LoiraSafada*

        This would have been totally fine at all the places I’ve worked in the Bay Area, including places in the FiDi.

    7. Allie*

      Maybe it’s the Miami in me, but I don’t find them inappropriate either. They wouldn’t be okay for court and you might want a camisole for meetings, but for just in the business casual office? Meh. I don’t see the big deal.

      1. Lablizard*

        I have a friend who works in Phoenix, AZ and wears them as a more formal option than sleeveless in summer in a professional, client facing role. Maybe this is also a climate thing? If it was 110+° I would want some vents too

        1. Kj*

          As someone who has lived the crazy heat of Texas and Arizona, I think that weather is a factor for sure! On crazy-hot days where you wilt when you step outside, any outfit that helps keep you cool is going to get the blessings of others. They’ll be wearing the same sort of thing or asking you where you got the outfit! There are a few companies that require formal dress in those areas over the summer, but they are few. Heck, the church I attended as a kid in Texas had casual summer dress where the choir and preacher and acolytes didn’t wear robes and the congregation was encouraged to wear something cool and comfortable. It was too hot for polyester! As a young choir member, I loved it!

    8. JS*

      I’m originally a west coaster and I 100% agree but I am also from a super liberal big city in tech so might be different than others industries or smaller towns.

  6. gwal*

    #4, definitely don’t discount people for having non-local addresses! As a person who applied to paid internships that suited the requirements of my curriculum, regardless of location, and who ended up moving for a summer without relocation assistance to the place that hired me, ~350 miles away, I’m extremely thankful that my internship coordinator didn’t apply such an arbitrary and unwritten applicant filtering rule! Let the applicants know you won’t pay relocation, offer positions to the best ones, and let them decode for themselves. Please!

    1. Jess*

      I second this 100%! As someone who has applied for many internships and entry- or junior-level jobs in various locations, my “unwritten assumption” was that no relocation assistance would be offered. (I was under the impression that relocation assistance is more typical for higher-level or niche positions where there might be only a few individuals who could fill the role.) Please don’t write people off simply because you assume they don’t know what they’re doing! Sure, confirm with them that they indeed understand relocation assistance won’t be offered, but then let them manage their own affairs. There’s no need for you to be involved in their housing arrangements at any stage. These are adults, right? Treat them like adults who are perfectly capable of seeing to their own housing in your city during their internship, regardless of whether they are currently there or not.

  7. Jessica*

    OP#2, please encourage your manager to lay down the law on the dress code sooner rather than later. I know one can’t always anticipate every sort of garb your employees may come up with (who knew these “cold shoulder” tops would be the rage this season?), but it’s only considerate and fair to try to give people TIMELY notice of what the dress code will be.
    Years ago I worked at a place where I was one of many young, entry-level employees with not a lot of experience of the business world. Spring came, people started wearing their warm-weather clothes, and then our manager had a Dress Code Talk with the staff. I still remember how angry I was, because we were NOT well paid and I had just dropped significant dough on some of the nice sundresses he was now telling us not to wear. I wouldn’t have minded if they’d made the dress code clear before people started shopping for their spring/summer wardrobes.
    If your manager doesn’t like the outfits your employees are wearing, he needs to tell them before they invest any more of their work-wardrobe budget in garments they don’t realize are inappropriate.

    1. Gaia*

      I hear you but also, I would always recommend asking (if not Boss, than Trusted Coworker) before spending on clothing that might be questionable for the workplace.

      1. Taylor Swift*

        No, I generally don’t run my clothing purchases by my manager. That is not normal and should not be expected.

    2. OP #2*

      Hi Jessica- I’m the OP for #2. After the one coworker had the crying scene last year, my supervisor did cover the dress code in an all staff meeting about 2 weeks later. He addressed the fact that it can be trickier for women. He said sleeveless shirts were o.k. as long as the armholes were not gaping and showing your bra. He said tank tops, spaghetti strap tops and strapless tops were not o.k. In fact this line is directly from our employee handbook:
      “Flip-flops, t-shirts, tank-tops and excessively revealing clothing are not allowed”

      When he asked me about the tops, he said that they seemed to be more like a weekend or club-type shirt than office wear. To answer Alison’s question about when he spoke to the coworker last year about her clothing, he was not rude or a jerk to her. He simply called her in the office ( I was present ), told her that her clothing was not appropriate and violated the dress code. She was wearing tights (not leggings but tights like you see women wear under dresses but even leggings would be inappropriate) and a sheer white shirt with a tank top under. He told her (per the handbook) that she would need to go home and return dressed appropriately . She got angry and said she would just take the day off. He said that we had a meeting that afternoon that she would need to present for and he wanted her to return. She burst into tears, said fine, left the office, grabbed her purse and when someone asked if she was o.k., she practically shouted “No, I am not o.k.! Boss said I was dressed wrong and he needed to go home, change and come back for a meeting!”. That meeting was so awkward and tension filled. She came back in (I kid you not) an ankle-length, long sleeve dress.

      I really don’t think our dress code is overly strict. We don’t get a dress down day. In the summer, women are allowed to wear capri-style pants June-August.

      1. Jessie the First (or second)*

        So I read this and was about to get all annoyed at you for saying tights or leggings would be inappropriate because that is SO WEIRD and then – I realized you meant she was wearing *just* tights. No skirt or dress? Tights and a shirt? Holy hell.

        So yeah, don’t be scared off by that person’s reaction last year – someone who thinks showing up to work in tights and NO PANTS/SKIRT is of course going to react unreasonably when told to change, because that person is clearly unreasonable. lol.

      2. BPT*

        To me tights are undergarments, akin to underwear and bras, so I don’t see how anyone would be even comfortable wearing just those to work with nothing over them. That’s so bizarre.

        1. another person*

          I count tights in the same categories as socks (while leggings I count in the category of casual pants). I would not wear socks to work without pants or a skirt. That would be just ridiculous.

      3. LBK*

        Hmmm…I generally think it’s pretty condescending to send an adult home to change since that’s something you do to school children, but if there was a meeting she needed to be dressed more appropriately for that afternoon I’m not sure what the alternative would’ve been.

        I think she was probably just embarrassed, though – I mean, it’s pretty awkward to have to leave the office for that reason, although making a scene and drawing more attention to herself probably didn’t help with that.

        1. Jessie the First (or second)*

          I agree it’s condescending – far, far better to simply let a person know they can’t wear a certain thing, give them the option of going home to change if they’d feel more comfortable, but otherwise, just using it as a heads-up for going forward. But in this case – tights. Just tights. You gotta put some clothes on before you come to work.

          1. LBK*

            I confess that despite it having been discussed on here before I don’t really know the difference between tights, leggings and pantyhose. Are tights thinner than leggings?

            1. Jessie the First (or second)*

              Yes, far thinner than leggings and a totally different fabric, and thicker than nylons. I know people argue about whether leggings are pants, but tights are not in that league. They can be opaque (though not entirely – they are not usually thick enough for total opacity) but they are not stand-alone. I have never seen someone wear tights without a skirt or dress over. It’s just…not a thing to wear only tights.

              1. Can't Sit Still*

                I saw a woman once who was wearing black control top pantyhose as pants. She was at DSW, trying on shoes. I will spare you the details, because what has been seen, cannot be unseen. Nudity would have been preferable.

            2. FDCA In Canada*

              Yes, leggings are generally (hopefully) designed to be thicker and opaque and could theoretically be worn with nothing else covering the rear zone. Like something you could wear to the gym. Tights are thinner and sheerer and definitely show what’s underneath them, like underwear. Pantyhose is sheerest of all and a big pain.

            3. That Would Be a Good Band Name*

              Tights are what little girls would wear under dresses to church where I’m from. Thicker and would provide a little coverage so underwear wouldn’t be completely seen when they got a little rambunctious while playing. But they definitely don’t completely hide it either.

              Being a woman who last wore a dress on my wedding day, I’m definitely not an expert. It seems like most adults wear tights when it’s cold and they want the warmth. At least at my last office, that’s what I noticed. Skirts that would be worn with bare legs or light hose in warmer months would be paired with tights in colder months.

            4. LoiraSafada*

              It can be confusing, because many leggings are also described as “tights” (as in “running tights” or similar), but they are a stand-alone clothing item, whereas the tights being discussed here are definitely in undergarment territory.

              1. LBK*

                I think what also confuses me is that I’ve also seen things that I’m pretty sure were leggings that became more sheer/see-through than people probably realized when they were on their body vs on the hanger (or however they’re packaged). So personally I’m not totally sure I’d trust leggings as pants either way.

                1. bearing*

                  I think part of the whole problem is that there is sort of a spectrum of sheerness and thickness, and things called “tights” and things called “leggings” both exist on that spectrum with some overlap in between. I really think this is where a lot of the outrage comes from when it comes to the “Are they appropriate as pants?” question among the general public — I own several items of clothing that were sold as “leggings” and some of them I would wear in public as pants (mostly exercise pants) but others, oh no, they go under dresses or really long tunic tops.

                  To me the only thing that really sets a bright line that distinguishes tights from leggings is that tights, unless you specifically call them out as “footless tights,” have feet. But I have things called “tights” — because I live in a cold area and like to wear dresses — that are made of thicker cloth than some of the things I have that are called leggings.

                  I think sometimes when people are arguing about leggings they have different items of clothing in mind.

            5. Casuan*

              Leggings vs Tights vs Nylons [aka Stockings, aka Pantyhose]

              This question made me think a little. My first thought was that the difference isn’t so much definable as it is “I just know what it is when I see it”… which isn’t at all helpful nor is it always true.

              It isn’t just an issue of fabric because there are wool tights & fishnet stockings. There are denim leggings, which to me are just so very wrong I shudder at the thought of them. There are footless tights and there are… way too many variations to mention & aren’t “footless tights”… not really tights?!?

              So now that I’ve confused myself, how can I really tell the difference?
              answer: The waistband & lower torso area. Tights & nylons have the same characteristics here with different fabrics & most leggings are all one fabric.
              [thankfully, this helps me to make sense of “footless tights” although nothing will ever help me with “denim leggings’]

              So unless I see said articles in the shops, my method of classification is not one that I ever want to use on someone who isn’t me or a close friend. And even in the shops I’m willing to take the shop’s signs & product labels at their word.

              Whatever the garment, still it’s my responsibility to determine if it complies with the office dress code.

              Of course, a business can’t use my new-found method to determine what type of clothing one is wearing.
              All the business needs to do is to determine if one’s clothing is conducive to the company’s image. Companies are in the right to have policies which don’t require many lengthy discussions of what-ifs [eg: “What if we allow the cutouts to…”].

              OP, the Shirt & Tights…?!!
              Wo. Just wo.
              As others have said, often it’s okay to let an employee stay yet never again [& maybe limiting client interaction, although this can be arguable].
              Your colleague was dressed for a club, not a professional office. Her judgment & reaction when she was told her clothes were inappropriate were wtf-over the top. Hopefully your management addressed that with her within a few days after she cooled down.

      4. kb*

        Maybe address the cold shoulder thing towards the end of the day? Because they’re not so inappropriate they merit going home to change out of them (and it seems people have been wearing them other days without issue), but it’d still be awkward to have an 9 am meeting about cold shoulder tops no longer being allowed and then be stuck wearing one until 5.

      5. MyFakeNameIsLaura*

        I agree that this coworker was in the wrong for her initial attire and outburst but I do appreciate the pettiness of coming back to work in an ankle-length, long sleeved dress.

      6. specialist*

        Thanks for coming back to clarify. I think your issue here isn’t with the dress code or with your boss, but rather with your coworker. She’s got issues. It sounds like you do have a dress code and nobody in their right mind would think that the outfit you described would be acceptable in an office with the dress code described. The appropriate response to being told that your outfit is a problem is not to throw a fit but rather to apologize and change. Hey, we’ve all had an issue where we just missed it on our outfits. Not a big deal.

        I would advise your boss to have another group messaging on the dress code. I initially thought that this should be another meeting, but he did this last year and seriously, are these people toddlers? Just state that going forward cold shoulder tops are considered excessively revealing and should not be worn without additional opaque cover. Violations will result in the penalties as spelled out in the employee handbook, including but not limited to being sent home to change, loss of vacation days to cover being sent home, loss of pay, loss of opportunity for advancement.

        Your dress code really doesn’t sound bad. I am sure mine is much worse.

        1. Sarah*

          Also, you shouldn’t even NEED a dress code to tell you not to come to work in tights with no dress/pants/skirt over top! I don’t believe my work technically has a formal dress code, but certainly someone would be spoken to if they came in that! It’s like, you also don’t come into work in a swim suit (unless you’re a life guard or surf instructor!), and most people do not need that spelled out…

      7. Taylor Swift*

        I would say that if you can’t wear capri pants on May 31st but you can on June 1st, your dress code is too strict and is infantilizing.

  8. Boston Bee*

    #4 It’s entirely possible these are indeed students who live locally but are putting what they see as their “permanent” address on their resume/cover letter. Or they know they may move dorms/apartments soon and want to make sure they have a steady address so they don’t lose mail. Honestly, with the one exception of knowing whether a candidate is local, I’m not even really sure what the point of including a home address on these materials is anymore other than “it’s just how it’s done.” Don’t discount these candidates! But similar to what Alison said, there’s nothing wrong with double checking via email before inviting them in for an interview.

    1. Chaordic One*

      I understand that a lot of young people no longer even use email. Instead, they text everything, so you might want to consider texting with them.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Don’t do that! They’re using email if they’re applying for jobs. And in most quarters, texting still isn’t considered a particularly professional way to contact someone who you don’t have an existing texting relationship with, and there are lots of reasons (like record retention) that email is far better suited to hiring correspondence than texting.

      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Don’t text them!!! First, it’s not professional and doesn’t model good professional communication skills, which is a skill they’d ideally pick up from interning. But also, they all have email (nearly every U.S. college/university requires students to create and monitor an email account).

        1. MacAilbert*

          Is texting really seen as that unprofessional? My boss will text me if it’s just a quick question I can answer offhand. He never needs to call me. Granted, that wasn’t done during the hiring process (also, a different boss hired me), but it’s how we’ve done things since he was in charge, and it works fine.

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            Texting is unprofessional in the context of hiring, imo.

            I think workplace texting is less than ideal but can be ok depending on your office’s culture, whether the person had access to other options (and whether they knew you did/didn’t), and if it’s during reasonable hours with a low expectation of an immediate response.

            1. Al Lo*

              My co-workers and I text all the time (some of us more than others, but I think I’ve texted all of them at one time or another). Our office (of 10) doesn’t have an IM system set up, and we work really varied hours, so we text a lot for those quick questions that would otherwise be on an IM or Slack or something like that. I mean, technically we could email (and there are times when I absolutely respond to a text with an email, if that suits the question better), but texting is faster/easier.

              We also do a lot of off-site events, so I absolutely need to have them in my phone and be able to get in touch quickly when we’re at an event.

              I think it just depends on your office, its culture, and your co-workers. I don’t think it’s inherently unprofessional anymore. 10 years ago, yeah, maybe. Now? Not so much.

            2. Zathras*

              I wish my boss felt this way! She once sent a text that was just “how’s it going?” ON MY VACATION DAY.

          2. Beezus*

            In my office, totally appropriate among people with existing close business relationships, but iffy with people you rarely talk to, and almost never with people you haven’t contacted before, even inside the company. The only way I’d text someone in a hiring context is if I had to change an interview time urgently on the day of the interview and I wanted a backup to the voicemail I already left.

          3. Another Lawyer*

            Texting a current employee is very different than texting a prospective one. You’ve already built a working relationship.

        2. Trout 'Waver*

          I agree that texting is inappropriate for applications. But there is a role for texting in business communications.

          If you go far enough back, e-mail was considered too informal for any business correspondence.

      3. blackcat*

        College instructor here: my syllabus states that students are responsible for checking their email at least once a day, since I send important information that way. I did the same thing when I taught high school (the kids had school-supplied email).

        Email young people. If they don’t respond, that’s their problem.

        1. Callie*

          Same. I do not give students my cell number unless and until I supervise their student teaching. I am required to do a certain number of unannounced visits to their school site, and I am fine with them texting me stuff like “we have a last minute assembly no one told us about so don’t come visit today” so I don’t waste a trip to their school site. Some districts allow their interns email/wireless access and some do not, so texting is easiest in that case. But until then, it’s email only.

          I have an advisee who hasn’t responded to my 5 “sign up for an advising appointment” emails, and I’m not going to chase him down. He can either come see me or he doesn’t get the advising hold lifted in Banner!

      4. Falling Diphthong*

        I have a young person. She emails for anything lengthy even to me, and certainly uses it for work. Texting is for brief casual correspondence.

        (I was interested to read that The Young don’t like periods in their texts. I reviewed my kids’ texts and–no periods on their end.)

        1. Antilles*

          Unless you’re texting full sentences, a period in a text message basically is a sign of anger. “fine.” means that no, we’re actually not fine, I’m actually kinda ticked at you.

        2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Yeah, it’s a tone thing. Periods in texts that are not multiple, complete sentences is a sign of irritation or passive-aggression. Imagine it as equivalent to rolling your eyes or stomping your foot, depending on context.

          1. Lissa*

            Sort of like how as a sole response, “OK” is neutral, “K” means you’re grumpy and “KK” is neutral/positive? (or so I learned recently!) And adding a period to any of those increases the anger level.

            Weirdly, this kind of makes sense to me when I think about texting my partner. We usually are really casual, so a properly capitalized sentence with periods at the end would be a little odd. but with anyone I don’t know well I usually do send full sentences and receive them, but I am also older (well, mid-30s) than current slang, so…

      5. Anonygoose*

        They may text with their friends (I honestly can’t remember a time when I’ve emailed my friends), but they are certainly emailing with employers. Definitely email them!

      6. PizzaDog*

        The #youth know to check their e-mail for important things. A text from a potential employer would be incredibly weird to get.

      7. LBK*

        They no longer use email for casual, personal communication (did anyone really ever do that, considering IM popped up around the same time as email?) but they most definitely use it for professional communications.

        1. MegaMoose, Esq*

          I used to email people casually a little more before I got a cell phone (which was after college, waaaaay back in the mid-aughts), but largely we’d use AIM or ICQ. Now it feels weird to just “drop someone an email” unless they’re my dad or something.

          1. LBK*

            Yeah, I pretty much only use my personal email to contact family. Even my mom texts/tweets these days.

        2. Lowercase holly*

          I used to to keep in touch with various people pre-unlimited texting, pre-Facebook. There were several IM services that didn’t communicate with each other but email was universal. Plus I viewed IM as in the moment and email was to be viewed whenever.

        3. That Would Be a Good Band Name*

          I can assure you that email for personal communication was very common in the mid-to-late 90s among myself and my college age friends. We didn’t have cell phones, and paying long distance charges was too expensive. But we all had free email and computer labs at our schools.

          1. LBK*

            That makes sense – I was in middle school at that point so I didn’t really have any long-distance friends who I might want to have a long-form, asynchronous conversation with.

      8. That Would Be a Good Band Name*

        My kids were required to start monitoring email in elementary school (they are just now in junior high). So mine will have years of email monitoring experience before they ever apply to their first job.

      9. MadGrad*

        Where did you hear that? We don’t use it casually, but I don’t know anyone (I’m in my early twenties) who isn’t on their email pretty regularly, especially for school or work. Texting for work is fine to me, but only for quick stuff if we already work together – it’s not how I’d want to be approached during hiring.

  9. The IT Manager*

    For LW#5, I don’t consider 3 weeks being that long of a time especially with many moving parts. I’d assume they were very interested in you because they keep contacting you. Although I completely sympathize that you want a faster timeline and they’re not in a rush.

    1. Casuan*

      This. OP5, although it’s quite frustrating to you, this company is being considerate by keeping you in the loop. As Alison said, this level of transparency is rare.
      One of the reasons they might be doing so is so they don’t receive enquiries asking where they are n the hiring process…

    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Agreed. It’s not a very long time, and the employer’s updates and communication really set them apart as an example of what companies should do.

      I think OP might be in the waiting vortex, where every day feels like a week to the candidate, while time flies for the organization.

    3. Daisy*

      I’m a little confused about 5. She says that she’s going to move whether she gets the job or not, but then that she’s waiting for an offer so she can give notice and move. Those seem contradictory to me?

      1. Misc*

        The timing of the move probably depends on whether they’re walking into a job at the other end or not – they might intend to keep job hunting for a bit longer if needed before giving notice.

    4. Security SemiPro*

      It just took me a week longer than anticipated to get an offer to a candidate because my boss was sick. That was after it took me three weeks longer than anticipated to get interviews scheduled.

      Hiring takes longer than anyone wants it to.

    5. Trout 'Waver*

      Totally agree here. They’re proactively reaching out to you every week with updates, even though the updates are that nothing new has happened. That’s a really positive sign. Most companies don’t do that, even for people that they very much intend to hire. Be patient, the delays are normal.

  10. Leah*

    In regards to #4:

    When I was a college student it was extremely difficult to get interviews for internships in my hometown, even when I included my permanent address on my resume and stated outright that I had accommodations I could stay in. One company even told me outright that they didn’t consider me local and that students from local colleges would get preference outright. So please don’t throw out their applications. But definitely say explicitly that you give no relocation assistance/whatever benefits you don’t give just to be safe.

      1. mskyle*

        I think it can also be concern that the candidate is being super-broad/desperate in their search and/or concern that the candidate doesn’t actually have a plan for how they’re going to get to work.

        Like, if I were reviewing internship applications at my place of work and I saw students who weren’t attending a local college and who didn’t have a permanent address nearby, I would just wonder “Why?” Why are they going after a position at my little 30-person company rather than anything else, anywhere in the country? (If they had a good explanation for “why” in their cover letter I would understand better.)

        I would also be a bit concerned if I were reviewing an application from an address, say, an hour away, because parking near our office or a commuter rail pass would cut into an intern’s salary pretty sharply – I would want to know how they planned to get to and from work, and I’ve run into a lot of regular, full-time, salaried people who make bad decisions around that (and then whine about it), never mind interns.

      2. Kaybee*

        It could be the organization trying to invest in the community. We have something like seven public colleges (4-year and community) and many more private schools within driving/public transport distance, but historically had an internship agreement with a prestigious university out of the area. I always feel really bad that the local students don’t really have a chance to intern with us, particularly since what we do happens to be one of the major industries locally. We also pay our interns, so it would be an opportunity for someone who wasn’t affluent to be able to get internship experience since unpaid internships are a real hardship on those with fewer resources. We’ve since expanded our internship program to beyond the prestigious university to be open to anyone, but the students at the prestigious university are groomed to be a perfect fit for our requirements, and the local students just aren’t afforded those sorts of resources. I actually would love to create an internship position just for local students to ensure they had the same opportunity.

        1. Emi.*

          But … students who are from that town are at least as much part of the community as students who attend school in that town, no? In my experience, they’d be more part of most local communities, since my school had a lot of snobby kids who weren’t interested the town simply because it was in the Rust Belt.

          1. Kaybee*

            Perhaps. And I will admit my perspective is skewed somewhat. We don’t suffer from brain drain, rather, the exact opposite. This region is a draw for talent from all over the country and world, which I think is a very good thing. But I’m also cognizant that it creates situations where some are left behind and not necessarily from any personal failings, but simply because they didn’t have the same resources and opportunities as others did. (That said, I don’t think a personal failing should banish you from good opportunities for life.) So the focus for many around here is not so much luring home folks who have gone away, rather, providing opportunity for those who never got to leave.

            My point was that employers sometimes have reasons for hiring from local colleges that aren’t nefarious. Take the Long Beach Promise, for example. It’s basically a guaranteed higher education or vocational training program for any student within the Long Beach public school district that wants to take advantage of it. It started when leaders realized that the outcomes for the disadvantaged youth in their community sucked, and the factors contributing to these outcomes started long before these youth were anywhere near adulthood and had agency over their own lives. The businesses that participate in the program tend to grant internships and work experience to the students in the program. Is that unfair to the kid who went away to Harvard and now wants to intern back home and discovers so many of the internships are limited to Long Beach community college and CSU-Long Beach students? Perhaps. But the program also is doing really good things for the community.

            Sure, some employers are jerks, and some employers unjustifiably limit their internships. But there also can be really good reasons for employers offering experience to students within their community.

      3. JustaTech*

        I was once turned down from a really interesting internship at one of the national labs because I didn’t have a car (or a bike) and the lab was in a place with no public transportation and no housing in walking distance. I was bummed to not get the spot, but honestly they were being smart (no point in an intern who can’t get to work) and looking out for me (not stranding me in the desert).

      4. op4*

        OP4 here.
        There is probably a touch of parochialism in our organization by virtue of being a non-profit that serves a specific geographic area and receives funding through local governments. The mucky-mucks like to make a show of supporting local entities.

        As the hiring manager though, I’m less concerned about that are more about retention and making sure an intern has a meaningful experience. Hiring summer only, is not how we usually do things (job description states 3-9 months, part time, available immediately) and is pretty limiting in terms of projects we can assign to someone. I assume that students attending out of state universities are only available summer only.

        1. kb*

          I guess if I were an intern looking at that posting, I would assume a summer internship would be a possibility because many university summers are about 3 months long. Does the posting ask for applicants to include how long they could participate?
          It seems like you have a strong preference for those who can work longer than 3 months and quite a bit of interest– could you adjust the posting (for future years) to say 5-9 months?

        2. YawningDodo*

          Y e a h, when I was in grad school and looking for summer internships, I would absolutely have applied for something that said “3-9 months.” Opening the description with the possibility of a 3 month internship implies that it *could* be a summer-only internship, and even if it isn’t, depending on the work it might be worth coming back to work a semester later if they ended up on the 9 month end of the scale. Presumably that’s something you and the applicants would discuss during interviews – so instead of assuming you know their availability based solely on their current address, maybe talk to them about it.

          When I was in grad school, too, 90% of the internships and jobs to which I applied were in places I’d never even visited. The problem was competition — it was extremely easy for organizations in the town where I went to school to fill internships even if they didn’t pay or offer good terms because everyone else in my program was gunning for the same opportunities. Don’t assume people who come from out of state won’t stay, either. I moved to Montana (never having been to this state before) for a post-graduation internship, expecting to be around for ten weeks. That internship got extended into short term employment, which led me to a job with another institution nearby, and I’ve now been here almost six years. If they’d thrown out my application just because I happened to be living in Texas when I applied, my life would have been very different.

        3. Sarah*

          Interesting! I think for next year, maybe it would make sense to put that explicitly in the ad, something like “Please include your availability in your cover letter. Strong preference is given to students who are available to work part-time during Fall 2018 and Winter/Spring 2019.”)

  11. Sunshine*

    Adding my voice to those saying not to discount non-local students! As a soon-to-be graduate (eek!) I know all of my friends are applying for internships all over- and are aware that they may need to find/pay for housing wherever they go. Additionally, I go to college in a different state than where my parents live, and while I try to use my “permanent address” (my parent’s home), I sometimes will use my local address, it just depends on when I think the place would potentially snail mail me something!
    The one exception I guess, would be if you really have the expectation that they continue on part-time during the semester? In which case, mention it in the ads/interview stage to see if it would be possible.
    Good luck with your intern search!

  12. The IT Manager*

    Got #1 while I agree with Alison, for me it makes a bit of difference in my level of frustration if the employee in question had experienced this before and had reasonable expectations that she might have a panic attack or not. If this could be anticipated, she probably should have been upfront about the potential risk from the beginning.

    1. Leah*

      I agree, but it doesn’t specifically say she had flying anxiety, just that she had a generic panic attack. I know I wouldn’t be able to get on a plane during a panic attack (I’ve had plenty) and I don’t have a flying phobia. But OP should definitely have a conversation with the employee and ask if this has happened before. When I read the letter I thought this might have been the employee’s first time flying, for what it’s worth.

      1. Jess*

        I was wondering this too. On first reading I think I assumed the panic attack was due to the prospect of flying, but then I went back and realized the OP didn’t say. I agree with IT Manager though that it makes a difference whether there was a pre-existing fear of flying that had led to panic attacks in the past; in that case, she should have told her employer of that possibility. But generic panic attack unrelated to the flight, totally agree that it should be treated the same as if she had woken up with the flu.

      2. SystemsLady*

        Come to think of it, something like a panic attack (or a flu) might be covered by travel insurance.

        It’s also SOP at a lot of companies to drop the extra cash for refundable tickets, which are more expensive but much easier to drop, though it doesn’t seem like OP’s company would like the added expense there.

    2. blackcat*

      See, I don’t view this as any different from other medical stuff that many come up, like Alison’s comment about the flu. I am a known klutz. I trip on things. I have fallen down stairs repeatedly. There is nothing wrong with me so far as any doctor can tell, other than being clumsy and the accumulated damage to my joints from repeated sprains (remarkably, I have only broken one bone).

      Should I have to pre-warn an employer? “About once every two or three years, my clumsiness gets the best of me and I end up missing work to go see an orthopedist.” Seems silly to me.

      1. Temperance*

        I don’t really see that as comparable, though, unless your clumsiness happened more than once every two-three years and you tend to hurt yourself regularly before work travel/other high-stakes events.

    3. LBK*

      Oh god, can we not revisit this argument from the horrible bird phobia letter? There’s nothing here to suggest the panic attack was because of the flight, and either way it’s already over and done. Be annoyed all you want, but that doesn’t change the answer that the company should undoubtedly eat the cost. There’s pretty much no reason an employee should ever have to cover work travel, whether it’s due to a medical issue, because they quit before the trip or because they screwed up the booking.

      1. MegaMoose, Esq*

        Ah, was that part of why that turned into such a CF? I was out that day and ran screaming after a minute or two of skimming the comments. Anyhow, I agree that it doesn’t really matter how or why the panic attack happened – the employee couldn’t make the flight for health reasons and the employer should just eat it as CODB. If there’s a larger issue to address, deal with it separately. Otherwise you’re getting into “punishment” land, and that’s not a good place for employers to be.

  13. jamlady*

    #1 I wouldn’t treat this as a money-loss issue, but rather a “how can I support my employee” issue. Anxiety and panic attacks are no joke and there’s nothing worse in the aftermath than feeling like you let someone down because of one. Figure out how to move forward knowing this issue exists and that it is a very real thing for her – work with her for dealing with it in the future – and please don’t burden her with the cost of the ticket (that just seems like a punishment for a condition she has zero control over).

    1. Dizzy Steinway*

      +1. Alison’s answer is spot on. Also, this is why travel insurance exists. If you don’t insure travel, sometimes this will happen – sometimes people cannot take scheduled flights because that happens in life.

      1. JessaB*

        Also a lot of companies that do a lot of travel either have a travel agent or a specific airline they do business with. Corporate accounts sometimes get better treatment than casual flyers, in terms of changing up tickets.

      2. Jessesgirl72*

        Travel insurance does not normally cover something this minor. It covers major illnesses (generally that requires hospitalization), death, and natural disasters.

    2. Casuan*

      I wouldn’t treat this as a money-loss issue, but rather a “how can I support my employee” issue.

      Yes!! Great wording.

    3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Yes, 1000% this. OP#1, do you really want to be the kind of employer/boss who imposed a financial burden on someone experiencing a medical emergency? Because that’s what your employee is going through.

      By framing your question as you did, it implies that you think a panic attack (or underlying anxiety disorder) is a less legit medical issue/excuse than other medical concerns. If she’s fainted from low blood sugar or dehydration and injured herself, would you feel the same way?

      Eat the cost, and let it go—she’s probably already mortified and guilt-ridden.

    1. Leah*

      Well, OP said it wasn’t that material. If it was silk or some other typically blouse-ish material I think it would make a difference.

    2. Teh Wall of Creativity*

      I opened the link just now and got a bollocking from the boss, so I have to agree.

  14. Cynical Lackey*

    #1 your business chose to buy her a non-refundable ticket because they are cheaper. You could have spent a bit more up front and gotten a refundable one, but you chose not to. I understand why you did it, but ultimately it was the company choice. I am sure this makes long-term sense because most tickets are used; but it was your decision to buy a non-refundable one, Not hers.

    1. MacAilbert*

      Pretty much. Shit happens, and every company knows it. If they choose not to purchase insurance because it’s cheaper to eat the loss, that means, well, eating the loss. If you weren’t prepared for that, buy a refundable ticket.

    2. Lady Blerd*

      I’ve had to book flights for employees and would agonize for a minute about whether or not to buy cheaper non refundable tickets. I usually chose refundable ones because you just never know.

    3. SystemsLady*

      Travel insurance is notoriously finicky and I wouldn’t always recommend it for persona flights – but it almost certainly would’ve covered this situation, and it’s fairly cheap.

    4. Shamy*

      I have to agree with this. Even when things seem 100% certain, stuff can happen. I was set to travel for a weekend and chose not to buy a refundable ticket. The week before my trip, both my grandparents died and my husband moved out. I didn’t have the energy to fight with the airline as they wanted proof of relationship and the death certificates were not enough. Granted this was personal/education based as opposed to business, but I would have been pretty upset if my employer had insisted I pay them back for something so out of my control. A panic attack is truly out of her control just as if she had gotten sick as AAM said or lost a loved one.

  15. Chaordic One*

    OP#4 While your organization cannot provide financial assistance for intern housing, I hope you’ll provide a bit of information for prospective interns. When I worked at a nonprofit we were in a similar position, but we would refer interns to local newspapers and a local online list-serv that frequently listed housing available. There was a nearby bed and breakfast where many interns stayed that we referred them to. We also had notices posted on bulletin boards in our building about rooms and apartments for rent.

    Finally, we would also ask interns if they wanted to be put in touch with other out-of-town interns so that they might become friends and could discuss the possibility of rooming together. (Usually we’d get them all in the same online chat room to discuss this among themselves.)

    1. Public Historian*

      My program requires internships and many of them come with free or discounted housing and all of them have travel funding of some kind.

      Mine is not one with housing but my future supervisor did send me information and I got a cheap place for the summer.

      These internships aren’t city ones per se they’re usually at or near national parks so it’s not unreasonable to expect some kind of assistance.

    2. Naptime Enthusiast*

      Yes please, if you have any information even about what town is a good place to live share it with your interns. My company’s facility in a very undesireable neighborhood, but nearby towns are very nice and have plenty of opportunities for renting, but nobody knows that until they get here for the first time unfortunately.

  16. LeisureSuitLarry*

    LW#5’s story sounds remarkably like an interview that I was part of. I mean from the “moving to your city no matter what” to the follow-up.

      1. LeisureSuitLarry*

        I’m not going to answer that. First, because I can’t tell that the letter writer is, in fact, a “she.” Second, how crazy would it be to find out you did/did not get a job because a guy you interviewed with saw your letter on a blog and commented on it?

  17. Ann O.*

    I am CA-based, and I think I am unsocialized in the ways of the office for a variety of reasons (okay, really one… spent way too long in grad school). So perhaps that is why I not only don’t understand the issue with the cold-shoulder tops, I am also boggled that office dress codes are a thing for anything other than blatantly inappropriate outfits. Dress codes are obviously going to hit women way harder than men, and they’re going to hit certain female body types harder than others. They seem like a gross invitation to inappropriately sexualize co-workers.

    And that’s pretty much how I feel about the cold-shoulder tops. They’re a cute off-the-shoulder look that provides reliable bra strap coverage (at least in most versions I’ve seen) and otherwise a bog-standard business casual look. What’s the issue? Why is the fact that it’s a cut out to show the shoulder somehow sexualizing the shoulders or creating a problem that needs to be solved? What about these tops would make a manager even concern himself about them? It also just seems so infantilizing to me to make some kind of group announcement about clothing or talk about them in team meetings. Does the presence of shoulder cut outs really justify the discomfort, patronizing nature, and general creep factor of a discussion to adults about their clothing preferences?

    I get that there are some customer-facing roles where appearance is very relevant, and I understand that as people move up the food chain and interact more at the formal suits level clothing changes can be required. But for anything else, why do people care?

    1. Jeanne*

      In many cases it is infantilizing. It really varies by work environment. But I have to agree in many places it has no point. If you never see clients, why is it not professional? Tradition!

    2. Jamie*

      While I personally wouldn’t wear one I don’t understand the reasoning either. At first I thought they might be considered too ‘casual’ more often than not. By casual I mean something you’d wear while lazing about your house (oversized t-shirt, sweats, slippers, etc.). However the explanation they’re​ too sexual blew away. If cold shoulder tops meet that standard for being too sexual then I’d argue dresses, skirts, and tank tops are also never appropriate.

    3. Apollo Warbucks*

      For what it’s worth I think the top is too casual for an office rather than inappropriate. I also think dress codes hit women harder than men in part because of the wider range of clothing options available to them. There’s no a male version of that top anyone would argue is work place appropriate. My choices for work are button down shirts (and not even shirt sleeves as I have a tattoo on my forearm) and sacks or maybe a suite in the week and jeans and a Tshirt on Fridays.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        The fact that there isn’t a male analogue doesn’t sway me. There’s no mom-Scottish male analogue for a pencil skirt, and they’re perfectly appropriate. guys have 5 “top” outfit permutations, while women have 9376467 (I’m being a little hyperbolic)

        1. blackcat*

          Yeah, in my old job, the men always complained that women could wear skirts and dresses when it was really hot out and they were stuck in slacks (and ties!).

          Dress codes *can* suck more for women, but they can also suck more for men.

          1. Jamie*

            Were the men barred from wearing skirts and dresses? I know they’re not men’s clothing but it sounds like a recipe for disaster to bar someone from wearing them due to gender.

            1. blackcat*

              Yes, in the language of the dress code, it specified that “women” can wear skirts and dresses and “men” must wear ties.

              I think there’s been some discussion about this before, but having gender-specific dress codes is legal in most places. Not great, but legal.

          2. NW Mossy*

            A few years ago, some employees at my company successfully campaigned for greater gender neutrality in our dress codes. The specific issue was knee-length shorts, which were deemed OK for women (think tailored twill material, like a knee-length capri pant) but not for men. Since men do have a tailored knee-length short option (Bermudas!), HR reversed itself and agreed that they’d be OK too.

            That said, I’ve yet to see a man actually wear them, although there are definitely a few that rock that sort of Hamptons-chic style that could pull them off and maintain sartorial consistency.

          3. LoiraSafada*

            Except it’s probably freezing inside the office, so the guys are likely fine for the vast majority of the work day…

            1. LBK*

              When it’s that hot out, just waiting for the train or walking from the train to the office is enough to leave me with gross sweat stains for a few hours, even if the office is frigid. Still not exactly a desirable look.

          4. Ann O.*

            Most businesses in the US that are slacks and ties appropriate are going to be air conditioned.

            Personally, I would advocate that any place that is not air conditioned should also not mandate slacks and ties in hot weather–or any weather–unless there is truly a business justification. Generally, I bet there won’t be because the majority of office jobs (in my experience at least) are neither client facing nor executive facing. Why force people to be uncomfortable when they’re just working with each other? Being uncomfortable does not make people better workers.

            I would also argue that is not an example of sucking more, but sucking differently. It’s no fun to be overheated, but it’s a very different kind of no fun than the all of the gender dynamics that come into play with a supervisor (especially a male one!) scolding a subordinate woman for clothing choice.

            1. LBK*

              Keep in mind that even with an air-conditioned office, not everyone goes from air-conditioned house to air-conditioned car to parking lot 15 feet from the office door. On a muggy 85-degree Boston summer day, my outfit can get pretty gross just in the 10 minutes it takes me to get on the train (including waiting on a non-air-conditioned platform).

              Semi-relatedly, there’s a pretty great Better Off Ted episode where they conduct a study that shows that employees actually do work harder when they’re uncomfortable, so they start replacing people’s desk chairs with ones made of scratchy, uncomfortable fabric.

            2. AdamsOffOx*

              Makes me wonder about the days before air conditioning – when the dress code was much stricter.

              How much work could a man do in 95-degree heat and high humidity, when wearing a suit and tie complete with jacket (I read somewhere that before 1950 or so, it was considered anarchy and barbarism to take your jacket off at the office, no matter the weather.

        2. LBK*

          I think Apollo’s point was just that women’s dress codes have to be more specific/ban more things because women’s clothes have so many more variations. For men, you pretty much have collared shirt/t-shirt/tank top, so you only have to ban 2 things if all you want to approve are collared shirts. For women, if you only want there to be 1 or 2 approved options, you have to ban, like, 40 things.

          The argument wasn’t “men don’t have an equivalent option,” the argument is “women have a wider starting range of clothes to choose from, so dress codes are inherently more restrictive when trying to narrow down to just a few options”.

          1. Jamie*

            If that’s true (I agree it is) it’d be far simpler to specify what’s allowed rather than what’s banned. After all a company​ can’t possibly list every piece of clothing that’s inappropriate for the office.

            It’ll also give the appearance if greater equity between the genders. Allowing women to have a couple more approved clothing items looks far better than having a novel listing what women can’t wear while the men’s list is a few items.

            1. LBK*

              As silly as it looks to create a lengthy ban list, I do think it still ends up being less restrictive than just creating a list of what’s allowed, which I think is the preferred outcome. And given that how professionally a woman’s outfit reads can sometimes be a complicated alchemy of cut + fit + material + wearer’s body type + accessories + other factors, I think it’s generally best to say “these items are strictly prohibited, use your judgment on anything else”.

          2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            I understood, I just think it’s not the most effective way to determine whether a dress code is reasonable.

        3. Gadfly*

          9376467 outfit permutations, with 9376466 called into question by someone, and the last one gets some side eye…

      2. MuseumChick*

        For me cutouts of any kind in a shirt just makes me think “club or dance wear”. Which I realize is not always the case but that’s my own bias against these kinds of shirts in an office setting.

      3. Alton*

        It depends on the office and industry. In my workplace, visible tattoos are pretty normal and most people at my level don’t wear button-down shirts every day. I’ve seen women wearing these “cold shoulder” shirts.

      4. Ann O.*

        Yes, the range of options for women’s clothing is why dress codes hit women harder. But that doesn’t change the fact that dress codes do hit women disproportionately.

    4. Purple Dragon*

      I don’t find dress codes patronizing as the company is paying me to be here, so they get to determine the dress code, what I do all day and how long I can take for lunch etc. If I don’t like the conditions I am free to find somewhere that’s a better fit.
      My company has had a relaxed dress code. Things have slipped and now they’re trying to deal with people in track suits and outfits that are beach appropriate only.
      We have a new CEO and I suspect our new dress code will include enclosed shoes; mandatory sleeves; and a definition of what constitutes slacks. It’s nuts that they’re going to have to go to that level. The sad thing is that 95+% of people wear appropriate clothes but the 5% seem to look at the dress code and decide that they don’t prohibit whatever they want to wear. At least in my experience here.

      1. Al Lo*

        We have performers who provide parts of their costumes, and it’s kind of amusing how specific we have to get in order to get the results we want.

        “We need you to provide a long-sleeved, fitted, Oxf0rd-style, collared, paper-white, button-down dress shirt that is able to be tucked in.”

        (You’d be amazed at how many shades of white you see onstage when you don’t specify…)

        1. Liane*

          I can see this. The Star Wars costuming clubs’ standards can be very precise, especially about some clothing colors, for just this reason.

          1. Grapey*

            Agreed – I often clean out my closet and donate/swap clothes I haven’t worn in the past year…however the one unworn piece that I won’t donate is my white shirt! I haven’t worn it in 3+ years but I know the second I donate it I will need a white shirt the next day. (I try it on every so often to make sure it fits.)

      2. I Herd the Cats*

        Our dress code is unwritten and it’s interesting the way expectations change…. new CEO is an older, conservative man without (I think) much interest in fashion. His expectations: he doesn’t want to see arms, feet, any skin above the knee. Nothing you’d wear to the gym (no yoga pants, no sneakers.) Jeans, tees and sneakers ok for casual Fridays. Last CEO was a fashion-conscious woman with a particular conservative style and boy, was she a PITA. You’d get The Look. She’d quietly judge handbags and shoes. She hated flats (I wear stylish flats all the time) because she thought they were “unprofessional.” Lady, we’re a nonprofit. As long as we’re reasonably covered up and look presentable when donors stop by, you can let it go.

        1. Chaordic One*

          Flats unprofessional? I’ve often run into the situation where supervisors consider high high-heels to be unprofessional. (If you have trouble walking in them because they’re too high, then they probably are unprofessional, but really.) And now flats unprofessional. Who knew?

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Agreed. Just because it’s legal doesn’t mean it’s not patronizing (or conversely, that it’s reasonable/fair, etc.).

      3. Jesmlet*

        The company can mandate any number of things as long as it isn’t illegal, but that doesn’t make it right or any less ridiculous and nonsensical that they’re doing so. If the only people who are going to see what you’re wearing are your coworkers, then why are dress codes so strict?

    5. EE*

      Ann O.

      I actually (as a woman) quite disagree with: “Dress codes are obviously going to hit women way harder than men”.

      In my office, the men must wear a suit with a tie every day. Remove the tie on business casual Friday. The women wear dresses or just a nice top with nice trousers, except for me and a new hire who frequently wear suits.

      It’s true that the men don’t need to worry about sexualisation the way we do, but they certainly don’t get the leeway we do either!

      1. Murphy*

        Most restrictions in dress codes are directed towards women though, whether they explicitly state that or not.

      2. Mike C.*

        Do you realize how easy I have it when it comes to dress codes? I literally pull random things together and I’m “well-dressed” and “professional”. Suits are even easier. No one kicks men off of planes for perfectly reasonable pants. No schools ever accuse men of being too “sexual” (in those cases its usually some poor girl who was an early bloomer).

        I get so much leeway when it comes to what I wear at work it’s incredible.

        1. fposte*

          Actually, it used to be that men couldn’t wear jeans as non-revs; it was only because of the recent kerfuffle that I learned airlines have eased up on that.

        2. LBK*

          The United situation was slightly more nuanced than the viral story made it sound – my friend flies on his husband’s employee pass all the time and there is a dress code he has to follow that’s more strict than what you’d probably normally wear to fly.

        3. Stop That Goat*

          Eh, I think that men have far less options when it comes to dressing professional. Since our choices are so limited (slacks, button down, suits and done) , it certainly makes dressing quite easy though.

        4. Casuan*

          Mike, I do realise how easy you have it when it comes to dress codes, both in terms of ease of getting dressed & that your budgeting is simpler because you don’t have to purchase as much as women do to meet the dress codes.

          I want to hate you for it although of course I can’t because you’re being awesomely self-aware & you’re sympathising with the plight of women’s dress codes.
          So I love you for that!!

          And I can’t even hate the companies with dress codes, at least in general I can’t because I understand the need for them.
          What I do resent [mostly tongue-in-cheek with a dose of I-think-I-have-a-valid-point] is that just because of our gender women pay more for certain things [lingerie & other supplies] & dress codes add to these expenses: required nylons [ugh!], shoes with a certain heel requirement, hair management & paraphernalia…
          Seriously, at my long ago OldJob [circa 1990, with office & field jobs] I wished women could have just a small stipend or tax break just to help defray the costs of the required dress code!
          /end minor rant/
          //that felt good, thank for letting me get it out of my system//

      3. Purest Green*

        The issue here is people rarely consider whether a man is wearing the “wrong” button-down shirt, suit, or tie. But for women, there are so many ways a dress can be wrong. It’s too short, it doesn’t have sleeves, it has a keyhole in the back, it hugs her curves too closely, it looks like “club or dance wear” as one commenter stated. Same with tops. Same with trousers and skirts.

        1. Kj*

          Yep. Dressing for women is HARD some days. I’m thin-ish, but have a larger bust, so I have to be careful with low-cut tops, but I can get away with skinny jeans. Most of my dresses are knee-length or longer, but I have one that is shorter, but it has a very conservative top so it is OK, but my lower cut dresses (ones that show my collarbone!) need to be at least knee-length to be appropriate. It takes trying on a dress to decide if it works- I tried on one the other day that seemed nice on the rack, but the sleeve holes were cut so that it showed my bra on the side. It sucks having to think about all of this!

        2. Emi.*

          Ehh, I spend a lot of time in big meetings looking at the men and thinking “Seriously? That’s the tie you chose?” and “Sir, have you heard of this magical invention called The Iron?” and “YOUR SOCKS LOOK STUPID, MISTER.”

      4. Jessica*

        Dress codes are also more often used to judge women’s bodies. Every prom season, I see instances of larger girls getting busted for “overly revealing” dresses when there are thinner girls at the same prom in equally or more revealing ones. And when I read one of the comments upthread from a woman who said sleeveless is fine in her office and she frequently wears sleeveless dresses, my first thought was “I bet you shave, and I wonder if sleeveless would become Suddenly a Problem if you didn’t.”

      5. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        No, dude, try again. My guy friends say this and it is nowhere near equivalent. Many men are obsessed with the idea that having to wear a suit and tie is somehow inherently “worse” or harder than being subjected to 1000 stupid dress code rules that have no bearing on professionalism or your ability to do your job but exist solely because of your gender. And those same men have no idea how much grooming, etc, goes into pulling off the “more casual” women’s outfits they complain about (or covet?).

      6. Ann O.*

        Perhaps I phrased that unclearly. What I meant is that dress codes are going to result in women being told they are in violation of the dress code more than men. Men may be more uncomfortable, but it is fairly clear what appropriate/inappropriate is and they won’t have problems finding appropriate clothes in a shop or however they typically purchase clothes. (although I think a suit and tie dress code is ridiculous for most men as well unless they’re in a client-facing role. Also, I would wager in most of those environments, women are pressured to wear heels, which many women find uncomfortable even in the short term and in the long term do terrible things to body alignment that leads to pain even for women who don’t mind them in the short term.)

        Because women’s clothes have more variation, there is also much more subjectivity to appropriate/inappropriate, and it can be much harder to find appropriate in stores if the current trend is towards what others have decided is inappropriate. The dynamics of professional women being talked to about their clothing choices is pretty horrifying, IMHO.

    6. Misc*

      Honestly, I looked at that top and thought ‘what a nice top and such a clever way of staying a bit cooler while still looking professional’. I was really confused that it might be considered *gasp* sexy, other than the fact that women’s fashion marketing is all about playing up how sexy and attractive the model is in any particular outfit.

      1. Thlayli*

        One time a saw a little bit of someone’s shoulder and I was so distracted I couldn’t do any work for the whole day. So I can totally see how that top would be inappropriate.

        However, after that incident I died and when I was reincarnated it wasn’t the 1800’s anymore. I’m kind of struggling to see how that top could possibly be considered inappropriate in 2017.

        1. Jessie the First (or second)*

          Oh, this really made me laugh. :-)

          I can’t stand cold shoulder tops and didn’t check out the link so I have no idea whether I agree with you on the appropriateness issue. But I appreciate your humor.

        2. Jesmlet*

          Just snorted/choked on my coffee in a completely silent office and now I’m sure my boss thinks I’m crazy. Must get back to work before he comes over, sees my bare shoulders, and concludes I must be hitting on him.

        3. Maxwell Edison*

          Thank goodness you didn’t see anyone’s ankle!

          I’ll be very happy when this cold shoulder top trend goes away. I have very wide shoulders and these tops would make me look so weird.

        4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          This made me giggle. How do you survive when a woman is wearing pants, or *gasp* when her ankle shows from beneath her skirt or her ankle-cropped pant leg??

          1. Perse's Mom*

            I do get quite distracted when my team lead’s ankle-length skirt shifts up a bit… because she has some awesome boots that I adore.

    7. Mike C.*

      If we’re going to be absolutely honest about the issue, I need to point out that 99% of “issues” that come up with regards to dress codes refer to clothes worn by women.

      And no, it’s not because there is a huge variety (that’s a symptom, not a cause), it’s because we judge the hell out of women’s bodies. There’s this massive social pressure to dress just the right way – fashionable with complicated, put together outfits that make you look attractive and appealing to others (lest you look out of touch or frumpy!). But if you cross that ever changing invisible line, you’re too sexy and that’s unprofessional.

      It just seems really strange to me that whenever the issue of dress codes come up, it’s never a man being called “too sexy” or “too revealing”. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about school or work or where ever.

        1. Marillenbaum*

          Seriously. Finding clothes was hell for a large part of high school and college because my (very religious and conservative) circle found so many of my outfits inappropriate, simply because I’ve got very full hips and a big backside (I once had a director for a play mention my “birthing hips” during a costume fitting, because that does NOTHING to a 19-year-old’s self-esteem!) It took a lot of work to realize that while there might occasionally be an issue of appropriateness, most of this was just body-shaming me for my shape, and not because I had done anything truly incorrect.

        2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          I’m standing on a chair slow-clapping for Mike. (I mean that positively! Thank you for saying this.)

      1. Katniss*

        Thank you.

        And I’ll admit I’m floored by the pushback against cut outs. They’re just shoulders. No one in my office (business casual) would bat an eye at that.

        1. fposte*

          But it’s all of it just the human body. Tube tops would be just midriff and just shoulders, after all; do you think your office would bat an eye at those? Are upper thighs really so enticing that a bathing suit couldn’t be worn to work?

          Culture and language are never going to be simply logical. While I definitely think it’s worth considering the gender disparity in such things and my workplace isn’t going to care about open shoulders either, we’re in a very black and white era of thought right now, and if you apply that to clothes it’s just not going to work.

      2. Purest Green*

        Preach, sister! The idea that women showing their shoulders is viewed as too sexy (what?!) for the office points to a culture of viewing women’s bodies more as sexual objects than anything else.

        I understand the importance of professional appearance, but when you have a culture that forces women to wear bras but punishes them if a strap is showing… I don’t know, something’s wrong with that.

      3. Elfie*

        Mike, I have to agree. And as has already been stated, it’s not just women’s bodies, it’s a specific type of women’s bodies (usually us ‘larger ladies’, or women with big boobs). So something that can look perfectly fine on a slim, flat-chested woman looks ‘inappropriate’ on a women with bigger boobs (I’m thinking camisole tops here, or v-necks, or buttoned shirts – especially ones that don’t have extra room for curves). Or clothing that fits fine on a slimmer woman, and fits how it’s supposed to on a heavier woman, but it doesn’t look ‘professional’ (think tight clothing here, or even shift dresses). It’s not even that it’s the clothing that’s inappropriate, it’s the fit. Which can’t even be policed.

        1. toxi*

          Yep, if you have a large chest, you can get in trouble for wearing a turtleneck because it emphasizes your breasts and looks too sexual and you can get in trouble for wearing a scoop neck because too much of your cleavage is on display. You’re locked into a very particular neckline if you want to look “professional” and “not sexual”. Meanwhile, a woman with an A-cup chest can wear nearly any neckline she likes and be professional without thinking twice.

      4. paul*

        That doesn’t mean dress codes are inherently bad though, or that standards of dress are de facto inappropriate.

        We had to talk to a younger employee here (and thank god it wasn’t me responsible for doing so) because she wore yoga pants as work attire; they were so tight you could make out her labia, just grossly inappropriate.

        1. Mike C.*

          I’m not trying to argue that dress codes are bad, I’m arguing that they aren’t applied in a neutral manner.

      5. LBK*

        I agree for the most part, but I do also think part of it is that men’s clothing just doesn’t really exist that rides the line in the same way. There’s no questionably revealing version of a men’s dress shirt in common production, so the issue just doesn’t arise as frequently as it does for women because of how many borderline outfits are made for women

        I can guarantee if I showed up at work in a belly shirt tomorrow that would not be okay – I wouldn’t get a pass because I’m a man and therefore my body isn’t scrutinized the same way by society.

        1. Mike C.*

          Yeah, but those clothes aren’t the cause of the issue, they’re a symptom of the issue. If I as a dude faced the same pressure that women do with regards to my appearance, I’m certain there would be all sorts of ridiculous options for clothing – half open shirts, pants that are too tight in certain places, all sorts of undergarments whose purpose is to emphasize or diminish parts of the body and so on. Those sorts of garments don’t exist in the same way that they exist for women.

          1. LBK*

            Right, but I think dress codes are equally a symptom, whereas I thought your comment positioned them as a cause. It sounded to me like you were saying that dress code issues pertaining to women come up here much more frequently because we judge women more and don’t care as much about what men wear in the office, which I don’t think is the case.

            1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

              I’m not sure if I’m understanding you right — do you think that men and women are equally judged on their appearance?

              1. LBK*

                No, I don’t. I’m saying that in the context of dress codes being more expansive for women, I think that’s a symptom of women being judged more, therefore requiring a wider variety of options to fine-tune their appearance to be “appropriate” for a wide range of settings, thus having more things that have to be explicitly banned when you’re trying to create a narrow, specific dress code.

                Because there’s a wider range of options available to women, by nature you end up banning more stuff. I mean, sure, you can have a gender-neutral dress code that just says no short skirts for anyone, but I don’t know if anyone is really fooled by that – it’s pretty clear it means for women.

    8. Zathras*

      I think there’s a good point to be made here for OP#2 – make sure that if you are going to decide that this does not meet the dress code, that you are also enforcing reasonable dress standards on the men.

      I think that style of top is too casual for work, but I would be super annoyed if women were being told they couldn’t wear them while their male coworkers were allowed to show up in old cargo shorts and band T shirts with holes in them. (Not saying that’s the case at your office, but I have seen things play out like that before.)

      I’ve also seen it have a poor morale effect when it was enforced differently across different roles for no good reason – I worked for a while in a company where the dress code was officially business casual, with jeans only on Fridays. The tech people were hard to replace, and they knew it, so they would come in wearing whatever they felt like – flip flops, cargo shorts, old T shirts – and nobody ever did anything about it. But in other equally non-customer-facing departments, the dress code was enforced strictly.

    9. AnotherAlison*

      I think your point is a different question: Should we have dress codes? The OP’s question is based on the premise that there is a certain standard of dress we must meet in an office, as defined by that office.

      Taken to the extreme, why can’t we all wear gym wear to work? Why isn’t it professional? Sure, our clients want us to dress “professionally” but why is that a button down and slacks, not sweats and a t-shirt?

      I think if you asked the question 40 years ago about women in slacks or anyone in jeans, you would have had similar reactions to those fashions. Who knows where we will be in the future, but IMO, you have to dress for where your office is at today for the sake of your career. If clothing choices and gender biases about clothing are the battle you want to wage, go for it, but it is probably not going to do your career any good.

    10. OP #2*

      Hi Ann O., OP#2 here. Our manager never said he thought they were too sexy, he said he thought it was too casual- as in something you might wear on the weekends or maybe to a club.

      I don’t know if it matters, but we are an educational nonprofit (museum) and regularly interact with the public- school field trips everyday (usually several hundred children per day). Men in management roles wear a suit & tie everyday and the make field trip guides wear a polo-type collar shirt and trousers. Most of the ladies here wear slacks and blouses, maybe a cardigan set.

      Honestly, he thinks they are too casual for the office. We saw a visitor with cold shoulder top on the other day and it was basically a spaghetti strap top with slit arms sewed on. That’s what he is trying to avoid.

      1. Jesmlet*

        If the strap was thicker, would it still have been a problem? That’s an easier guideline to speak on rather than specifically mentioning cutouts on the shoulder since that would obviously single out the people who wore them recently.

        1. OP#2*

          I think it would still be a problem. He is leaning heavily on they are too casual for the office.

      2. Eugenie*

        Not sure if this is helpful, but I’ve spent my entire 10-plus year career in museums in two major cities in different regions and for either office or front-line staff anything shoulder-bearing is not appropriate. When I was working in the south and summer temps could easily hit 100+ I would usually pair a sleeveless shell or sheath dress with a lightweight cardigan for indoor coverage and then just carry the sweater when I was giving a tour to donors or walking across the grounds to get to meetings.

        Not sure why, as I don’t think any job I’ve been in has had a dress code that specifically forbade shoulders, but after being in the professional museum world for a year or two I internalized the idea that bare shoulders indoors are always inappropriate (unless the A/C is broken).

      3. Ann O.*

        I did acknowledge that when a role is client facing, dress is more of a legitimate issue. So maybe this is a legitimate issue for your situation, which has regular interaction with clients. My question would be, what problem will be caused by the shirts that needs to be solved?

        Personally, I don’t think the cold-shoulder shirts are more casual than the equivalent shirts without the shoulder cut outs. There’s such a wide variety that I think it’s hard to say as a group. But I can’t imagine anyone going clubbing in the one you linked to, for example!

    11. Temperance*

      I work at a law firm, and the reason that we have an explicit dress code is because some people felt it appropriate to wear spandex pants/leggings/shiny jeggings to work. I sort of see a cutout top as the shirt version of leggings.

      Every place that I have worked has had a dress code to a varying degree, and it’s typically because some people will show their ass if you don’t say “DO NOT SHOW YOUR ASS”.

      1. Ann O.*

        Honestly, for me, when push comes to shove, I just don’t see why we anyone cares for non-client-facing roles. Like yes, jeggings fall within the spectrum of what even I consider reasonable to have a dress code addressing, so I’m not advocating jeggings per se. But I do want to push people to think about the underlying assumptions and question why it actually matters. For most roles, does wearing jeggings really affect anything? Is there a real problem? Do jeggings actually show someone’s ass any more than a pencil skirt or well-fitting slacks?

        For a real-life example, in my CA-casual workplace, one of my old-co-workers biked to work. He changed to work-appropriate clothes for the majority of his work day, but he typically would come in, stash his bike, boot up his computer and check his emails first. Thus, we would all see him back in his bike clothes for some amount of time.

        Problems caused by his spandex bike shorts? Zero. If he never changed, would there have been any problems caused by his spandex bike shorts? IMHO, no (with the caveat of a sweat/smell possibility; my particular co-worker’s commute was short and our climate is pleasant, so he wasn’t particularly sweaty or smelly)

        1. Purest Green*

          I totally agree with everything you’ve said here. I say this as someone sitting alone in a room behind two computer screens all day, wearing business slacks and a blouse, having gone entire work weeks without laying eyes on another coworker. But jeans (just for example) are created from Satan’s hellfire and cannot be worn because… reasons.

    12. annalisa karenina*

      For what it’s worth, I 100% agree with you. I’ve worked in southern cities most of my professional life, and I wouldn’t care about the shirt, but I know people would feel a way and I know WHY they would feel a way. And it’s nonsense.

    13. JB*

      I’m with you, Ann O. I do not see how a cold-shoulder top or dress in an appropriate material and style is unprofessional or inappropriate. I am pretty surprised that so many folks are commenting that those tops are sexy or “club wear.” I’m an East Coaster, in conservatively-dressed DC and I am also a pretty conservative dresser and I just don’t see how a tasteful cold-shoulder is inappropriate…

      I don’t completely agree that dress codes are infantilizing. I think they definitely can be or can come across that way if they are not communicated well, but businesses have the right to define the kind of look they want to project and can and should define for themselves what appropriate and inappropriate clothing is in their offices, and communicate that clearly and often with staff.

      I think many people enter the workforce without an understanding of what business or business causal attire is, and learning how to dress this way is a skill that will serve people throughout their careers, just like any other skill. As such, businesses owe it to their employees to make sure that they understand it.

    14. Nervous Accountant*

      Everytime there’s a discussion about dress code, I thank my lucky stars that our dress code is VERY relaxed. Only thing that’s specifically not allowed is ripped/torn clothing (ermm, tears in jeans due to thick inner thighs doesn’t count…*shamefaced* ).

      Everyone wears everything, polo shirts, dresses, tank tops button downs leggings skirts trousers slacks jeans etc.

  18. Casuan*

    OP3: Everything Alison told you.

    Also this: Your letter said that your trainer worked as the acting [your job] & she has remained to train you & another new hire. And now that you’re trained, you had a rocky few weeks then things settled & Trainer has been professional with you.

    Your letter did not say that your trainer had a bad attitude & was looking for a new job because she hates her current employer or that your new colleagues are mostly horrid… you did say that your manager is apathetic. How are the other managers? Do your new colleagues seem content or are there signs of discontent?

    What I’m getting from your letter is that the management was transparent with Trainer by asking her to be acting manager & they must have made it clear she would be expected to train you. If I’m wrong, then Trainer would have worked on her own initiative, which would make her a truly exceptional employee to have done all she could to assimilate you & the other hire & then to stay on as your subordinate.

    What you seems to be experiencing is apprehension to do the job & taking on some guilt for something that doesn’t exist. Alison’s reply gives you reasons why you shouldn’t have either.

    Please don’t just “muddle through.” Your new company hired you & spent resources to train you. They wouldn’t have done this if they didn’t value what you have to make the job yours & succeed.
    Good luck!!

    1. OP #3*

      This is OP #3. I was keeping some details vague in case anyone I know saw this. But yes, trainer is an absolutely exceptional employee, truly one of the best I’ve ever worked with. I would say she isn’t valued within the company as much as she should be and I haven’t put my finger on why yet. Everything I’ve seen from her has been good and has really helped to rebuild the team after several departures. She cares a lot about the company and I don’t think she wants to leave. But I don’t think management was totally transparent with her so she kind of feels like she has to (from what I can see, she was being groomed for a long time for the position). As for me, yes, the job is a step up in responsibility in some ways for me (supervising fewer people but responsible over more areas) so there are days when I can’t help but think “why did they hire me over her?” She has about a decade more experience in the industry. I bring in some new skills to the organization (and have more management experience by virtue of supervising a lot of people at past job) but the skills I bring haven’t been terribly useful so far due to different policies, procedures, etc. We make a good team, though, and sometimes she can translate an idea I have into something that is actually actionable. I am grateful for all the help she is giving. I guess there is a lot going on. I miss my old job. I am not enamored with the culture at the new one (other managers are not helpful). Things are more disorganized and it is harder to find answers. But I will give it my best effort. I wouldn’t know how to do anything else.

      1. Casuan*

        The extra context changes things a little although the gist remains as to why you were hired & she wasn’t promoted: NewCompany believes you have skills they want for your role & they hired you. As for Trainer, you’re supporting her & you’ve told her this. Sometimes that’s all a manger can do.

        After a few more months you should have a better idea if your initial misgivings still have merit. Then you can make your decision whether or not the company values its employees. Just make sure that you value your staff & from what you’ve said you’re doing just that!

        random thought re these skills not being useful due to current policies & procedures: Perhaps your ideas can warrant a change in established procedures & that’s one reason you were brought in…?

  19. Paxton*

    This is a follow-up question for the community about #1.

    Please note: I 100% agree with Alison’s answer but wanted to get opinions on moving forward.

    Let’s assume that this person did regularly have panic attacks due to the stress of flying – would you remove them from all future flying opportunities? Maybe just those which are imperative to be at the client site on a specific day? Or maybe just those where they would be the only representative since in case this happened again you would have another person who would be able to cover for the employee?

    I don’t want to punish them but there are times that not showing up to a client site could severely impact the company or project. And if it became a habit could impact the client relationship.

    1. Bonky*

      We have an employee who has very serious claustrophobia, which means he can’t fly; it came on gradually (and eventually reached a point where the poor thing wasn’t even able to go to the cinema because the claustrophobia was so bad). We rejigged his responsibilities so he doesn’t have to fly, and made sure other people were able to do so in his place. It really wasn’t that hard.

    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      If this is a flying-related problem, and if flying is currently a core job function for the employee’s role, then I think you initiate the ADA accommodation process.

      You don’t want to guess at how to address panic attacks/anxiety, and you definitely don’t want to limit the employee’s client interactions or opportunities for development (e.g., if they wanted to go to a conference that boosts their book and their professional development).

      1. Paxton*

        I absolutely don’t want to limit their development opportunities – this person probably feels they are already in the spotlight. I would probably suggest for any future tickets when they felt that they could travel would be bought with a refundable option.

        For things like conferences or training I wouldn’t be very concerned as those are individual experiences and I would put them in the cost of doing business.

        However, there are times where a person is a linchpin to a meeting/event which they may not be able to complete virtually (maybe they can dial in but not lead). In the short term, I think I would probably pair the person with another employee for these types of travel just in case they happened to suffer from another attack. This would allow them an easy out and give the other person an opportunity for professional development as well.

    3. Allie*

      It depends. My spouse’s job involves auditing their contractors and doing site inspections, which requires a substantial amount of travel, including internationally, and due to some industry notice concerns, really really can’t be rescheduled immediately. For someone who couldn’t fly regularly, that just simply would not be feasible and not possible to reasonably accommodate, they would have to go into a different aspect of quality control or engineering. You’re not required to set yourself and the employee up for repeated issues which wouldn’t be good for either of you.

    4. AcademiaNut*

      I would say it depends somewhat on the job.

      If flying is not a strong requirement for the job, then they could be excused from travel – either joining meetings remotely, or juggling duties around to other employees.

      If travel is a strong requirement, but only happens occasionally, then purchasing refundable tickets would be an option, or arranging things so that a missed ticket could be rebooked for a change fee. This could work for the first case, above, as well.

      If travel is frequent and a strong requirement of the job, then it gets trickier, because they’re in a position where they can’t adequately perform the duties of the job. I don’t know about the legal test, but expecting an employer to repeatedly rebuy tickets (plus pay for extending hotel stays if they have problems on the other side) or cancel necessary trips at the last minute, doesn’t seem like a reasonable accommodation to me. If possible, the best option here might be to have them make a transfer to a position in the same company that doesn’t require plane travel, or to support them fully in finding a new job that doesn’t cause these sorts of problems. If the flight panic is a new thing, then a temporary stopping of travel while they sort out treatment might also be possible.

    5. MuseumChick*

      The first questions I would have to ask myself is “Is this an essential job function for this position?” The answer to that would determine how I would move forward.

    6. Halls of Montezuma*

      We had that issue with a lead software developer for a project. Where it was possible, we let him drive instead of fly, but he had to take leave for the difference in time (think 4 day cross country drive). Where it wasn’t possible to drive, we swapped around responsibilities and other people travel in his place, he just had to be available by phone at weird times due to time zone differences. That wouldn’t have worked if the travel was more frequent or the work was a project for airplanes.

    7. regina phalange*

      I am super claustrophobic on planes and while I’ve never had a panic attack on one, I’ve come pretty close, including yesterday when I had to fly for work. Also my preferred departure airport has a curfew, so if I get on a 6:45am flight, we may push back at 6:45, but then we’re sitting for 15 minutes MINIMUM waiting for curfew to lift and then you’re in a line of planes. The solution for me is a Xanax prescription that my doctor was kind enough to give me. First time I took it, no joke, five minutes later I was like look at all the pretty planes lined up waiting to take off. Yesterday I felt super nauseous and wanted off the plane before the door even closed but I had to fight through it because this was required work travel.

    8. Jessie the First (or second)*

      “would you remove them from all future flying opportunities? ”

      I would do nothing at all without discussing the issue with the employee first. That is absolutely critical.

      Also, regular panic attacks related to flying could implicate the ADA, in which case you have to evaluate whether an accommodation is needed, and whether possible accommodations are feasible for you. The ADA can come into play even if the employee does not practively tell you “hey, I need an accommodation.”

      So, you’d need to talk to the employee as a first step.

      1. LBK*

        Agreed. I don’t think we can make any judgment calls in a vacuum like this, because we lack the details and employee’s input to do that – we’d both need to have a hell of a lot more info about the situation, and we’d also need the employee to be involved to say what accommodation (if any is even necessary) would work best for them. We’d have to speculate on a lot of elements, and I don’t think that kind of hypothetical is particularly useful when the only concrete advice at this point is “talk to the employee”.

  20. Marvel*

    I could see why a lot of cold-shoulder tops are inappropriate for a business casual setting… but I do think there are styles that are fine. Any of the following links, for instance?:

    …wouldn’t be out of place in my fairly conservative midwestern town, if paired with nice slacks and possibly a necklace. Thoughts?

    1. Naptime Enthusiast*

      I would still steer away from these in my office setting. Are they cute? Yes. Are the business attire? Not necessarily. The second one could be paired with a sweater or cardigan and be fine, but that would be covering up the cut-out so it’s kind of a moot point.

      There’s just something about the cut-out that feels too casual, if it were a sleeveless top in general it would be fine so it’s not about the shoulders showing or skin in general.

    2. MuseumChick*

      I mentioned this in another thread. To me, cutouts in clothing just make it look very casual and/or like club wear. I could see wearing these tops to a nice restaurant while on vacation at a beach but not to work.

    3. AnotherAlison*

      If a 22-year-old recent grad admin assistant wore these tops with really appropriate pants, shoes, and accessories, I might not think they were the most professional tops, but I wouldn’t jump to “dress code violation” either. If it’s a 40-year old manager, I’m probably leaning towards the tops not being appropriate. IDK, I guess I just allow for less experienced people being easily swayed by the fact that the companies are selling the blouses in the career section of the store, so they must be appropriate, right?

      1. Meg Murry*

        Re: selling the blouses in the career section: The featured photo you see first in the workwear section on the Nordstrom website is a cold shouldered blouse – a little bit more blouse-like than what the OP had pictured, but still a cold shouldered one. And other moderately conservative workwear stores like Ann Taylor are also featuring them.

        My opinion is that its not ok for a workplace that is full business formal (suits for all), but if sleeveless shirts are ok than I think cold-shoulder is technically ok. I’m not into trendy clothing at all, and personally don’t intend to buy any of this style blouse myself, but I don’t think it should be outlawed in a formal dress code.

        If I were mentoring a younger/newer employee, I might suggest she lean toward more conservative/classic apparel rather than trends, especially if I knew that the bosses disliked trends like cold shoulder tops. But it would be more along the same lines as I might mention any other preferences I knew the bosses had – for instance, for instance, one of my bosses was a super stickler for being on time, and I advised a new employee that wanted to get ahead that a good way to make a good impression was to always arrive at meetings with at least a few minutes to spare, and another boss was a neat freak and I pointed out that taking 5 minutes at the end of the day to tidy up my desk (or at least put all the piles of papers into neat stacks) was a good way to stay in his positive graces.

          1. AnotherAlison*

            Hmmm. I don’t like that at all & I personally think it’s too peasant blouse-ish to wear to work. (It’s an odd cross between a regular button up and a peasant blouse.) No ruffles, por favor.

            I’m probably going to get a crop top with cold shoulder sleeves and a big peasant blouse layer of ruffles to wear this summer, though. Embarrass the kids and what not. Show off my white belly.

          2. Ann O.*

            And definitely NOT clubwear!

            Although I think that specific example is pretty hideous, personally, but that’s a different topic entirely.

        1. paul*

          That’s my thought. They’d be OK at my work–at least for Fridays, I’m fuzzy on the rest of the week (hey, I barely manage to not embarrass myself with men’s fashions). I’ve seen people wear them and no one minds.

          And we’re in flyover country.

      2. Allison*

        There was a news story a couple years ago, about a young woman who was sent home for wearing shorts to work at a department store. However, she stuck to her decision because the shorts were being sold in the Career section of the store! Retailers often have odd ideas of what’s “work appropriate” and what isn’t, you have to apply your own filter when shopping those sections, knowing your industry/company/office/region/etc. which you may not have a firm handle on right out of school, so I agree, it’s best to give a younger employee the benefit of the doubt and just advise her not to wear something like that again.

      3. Zathras*

        I think this gets at one of the issues around dress codes – no matter what the dress code is, there is always going to be a gray area of “this doesn’t violate the dress code and it’s not quite inappropriate enough to ban it, but you might still be judged for it.” As a manager, you can help people navigate that by communicating some of that judgement explicitly to them in a kind way: “Hey, it’s not really a specific dress code violation, but that top is a little too casual – I’m going to ask you to put a blazer or something over it when leading tours or attending meetings.”

        You need to be self-aware enough to police yourself against unconsciously targeting people with a specific body type or ethnicity (would I care if it were Jane wearing that top instead of Amanda?), and make sure that you’re also having these conversations with the guy who routinely skips shaving for two days longer than he should, or whatever. But this is true of a lot of management conversations.

        If you do decide to ban them, I would announce the change in a way that as much as possible doesn’t judge anyone that has been wearing them previously – acknowledge that it’s possible for the shirts to look professional, you’re just trying to draw a line that makes it easy for everyone.

        As a manager it’s also important to have a sense of when to look the other way – when it’s 100 degrees and the AC isn’t working, don’t get on someone’s case for wearing one of these shirts under a blazer and then discreetly taking the blazer off while alone in their office or cube.

    4. Xarcady*

      But once you allow one cold-shoulder top, you have to allow them all, appropriate or not.

      Unless you want managers to spend their time running around measuring shoulder straps (is that an inch and three-quarters, or the regulation two inches?) and otherwise vetting the appropriateness of women’s tops, you pretty much have to either allow all cold-shoulder tops, or none.

      And experience has shown that while 95% of the workforce grasps the intent behind the dress code, there’e that 5% who don’t–and who show up for work dressed in appropriate clothing.

      This is why high school dress codes frequently just ban certain garments for women in the school. Some leggings are fine worn as pants, some are not. Cleavage is another issue. Do we really want our school administrators spending their time evaluating their students’ cleavage to see if too much is exposed? So leggings get banned so that the vice-principal doesn’t have to spend hours every week arguing over why Kathy’s leggings are appropriate, but Jill’s are too sheer and her top doesn’t cover every thing it needs to cover. Or why Susie’s V-neck top is okay, but Gloria, who is wearing the exact same top in the exact same size, is revealing far more than the dress code allows. *

      It’s easier for everyone if certain things are just not allowed from the start.

      *I don’t agree with a lot of high school dress codes, but I can see why just saying no to things like leggings unless covered by a finger-tip length top is a common thread in them. It’s a black-and-white rule that is easy to enforce. Either the top is long enough or it isn’t. No arguing over the sheerness or opaqueness of the leggings involved.

      1. Kaybee*

        “But once you allow one cold-shoulder top, you have to allow them all, appropriate or not.”

        I don’t follow your logic. There are some skirts that definitely are inappropriate for the office, and I’ve never seen anyone argue that if you allow some skirts, you have to allow all skirts. Same thing for pretty much any article of clothing, actually.

        1. MegaMoose, Esq*

          The logic is banning all of a certain style of clothing, not all of a certain article of clothing. Banning all cut-out blouses is not equivalent to banning all blouses. Banning all stretch or sweat pants is not the same as banning all pants.

          1. Kaybee*

            Ok, I see that. I guess I’ll just have to respectfully disagree that if you allow one of a certain style of clothing, you have to allow all. I think it’s possible to find examples in most (obviously not all) styles of clothing that are office appropriate and office inappropriate. Yes, you can ban certain styles outright to save policing. I guess I’m a bigger fan of dealing with specific employees who don’t dress professionally than creating complicated dress codes. Because banning cut-out tops will lead to questions about tied-sleeve tops (I’m probably miss categorizing this) that a commenter discussed elsewhere. And that will lead to questions about lace sleeve tops, and on it goes.

            1. fposte*

              It mostly leads to those kinds of conversations in a commenting section, though, not in the workplace, and if you *are* in the kind of workplace where everybody has a “but what if I” response, a policy is probably a good move to scaffold the responses.

              1. Sarah*

                Yeah, I agree, I think a lot of this is down to workplace culture. If you have a lot of employees who don’t have a good basic sense of professionalism (tights! with no skirt/dress over top!) or who are constantly trying to skirt the rules, you may need a more detailed dress code. Versus my current workplace I don’t think there’s ANY formal dress code, but also I’ve never seen anyone wear clothes that seem inappropriate for the office, because we tend to hire people with a lot of training/experience (just by the nature of what the office is), who probably would not have gotten to that point if they weren’t aware of and able to follow professional dress norms.

            2. MegaMoose, Esq*

              I’m honestly trying to make a simpler rule here, not a more complicated one. It seems like “no bare shoulders” is a lot more straightforward than “no spaghetti straps, straps wide enough to cover bra straps are okay, no cutouts above the elbow.” I really think it’s best for managers to avoid making individualized calls on this kind of thing, since that opens the door to treating employees differently for reasons that don’t have to do with the actual clothes. I know people don’t like convoluted sets of rules, but I do think they start with the best of intentions and just are prone to getting out of hand.

    5. annalisa karenina*

      Ooh I’d totally wear the second one to work (at a defense contractor). That is a Look.

    6. LBK*

      If sleeveless tops are approved in the office, then I think the second one could be okay since it’s basically just a sleeveless top with an extra strappy piece – it doesn’t look like a cutout to me. The first one…I dunno, maybe it’s just the model’s pose, but that reads waaaay too clubby for me for the office.

  21. bbop*

    OP #2 I would suggest that this varies heavily on region.

    I’ve lived in the US, Canada and Australia and can tell you that this top would be SO FINE in most offices in Australia, and ok in some specific industries and cities in US/CA. Personally, I’m aboard the boat of “if you would wear a tank top then this should be ok” because I see this kind of top as a fun detail rather than a sexualization of the body. But sounds like I’m in the minority on that :)

    1. Trout 'Waver*

      I agree with bbop here. If the garment is billowing and gives the impression that the whole thing could fall off, that’s one thing. But I don’t see the image linked as any kind of sexualization.

    2. OP#2*

      Tank tops are not allowed in our office. Directly from the handbook: Flip-flops, t-shirts, tank-tops and excessively revealing clothing are not allowed

      Our manager doesn’t think it’s too sexy- he never said anything about sexy- he said he thinks they are too casual.

      1. Jesmlet*

        Then you definitely have more leeway here. Not sure how to word it, but I’m assuming the gist is no baring anything above the forearm/elbow?

        There’s no one set definition of business casual, every company treats it differently within the basic framework. It’s up to management to know the environment and make a determination that best suits the company without putting undue strain on employees.

  22. cncx*

    OP 2 reminds me of an office situation i had in my old job. We were also business casual and someone came in one day with cute flip flops (leather, a slight heel). everyone else took that to mean flip flops were ok and soon we had people coming in with regular flip flops, old pairs of birkenstocks, croc flip flops, sliders, people who probably needed pedicures but didn’t get them…it was very hard for the manager to draw the line between acceptable and unacceptable flip flops so she banned them all.

    1. JS*

      Fashion rule of thumb if it’s leather and heeled it’s not a flip flop it’s a sandal. Wish your manager would have known that haha. Worked in a high end jewelry store in college and that was the rule during the summer no flipflops (cloth or rubber) but if we had a pedicure(no chips neither) and it was a heeled shoe it was considered a sandal heel. But I’m also sure your manager has plenty more important things to do than police shoes so I don’t blame them to ban them all LOL!

      1. H.C.*

        Oh one of my OldJob had a whole can of worms deliberating flip flops vs sandals and what’s professional enough for work, which eventually just turned into a ban on all open-toed shoes – and I don’t blame them for that either, though I may be partially skewed from my college jobs in foodservice (aka no opened toe shoes ever)

        1. JS*

          Honestly it’s gender biased since the guys at my jewelry store had to wear dress shoes with no exception but the women were encouraged to wear heels (could wear nice flats too) so I think they were given more leverage with the type. I can see how it would open a can of worms though.

          My first job was also in food service and I remember having to wear those nightmare no slip clogged shoes so any other shoe to me is better haha!

    2. Misc*

      So…. I guess my showing up in bare feet occasionally to work wouldn’t fly there, huh? :D

    3. Kvothe*

      Funny story I work in an office and we can’t wear flip flops during the summer which is not unusual except for the reason: my boss can’t stand the sound flip flops make….I thought people were joking when I first started but nope that’s the main reason behind the flip flop ban which I find hilarious

      1. GasimRismill*

        I hate the sound of flip flops too – would love to ban them on our visitors! (But still better than bare feet, which has happened before…)

    4. Detective Amy Santiago*

      The rule at OldJob was if it had a strap around the back of your foot, you could wear it.

    5. Allie*

      I work in a casual dress workplace office but the one big no no is flip flops. Shorts and sweatpants are unofficially considered over the line too. Jeans are fine.

    6. LoiraSafada*

      Birkenstocks were de rigueur at my last office job. They’re not flip flops, though.

    7. SarahBot*

      At my last job, they got around this by saying “if the flip-flop / sandal would float if you threw it in a pool, you can’t wear it to work.”

  23. JS*

    #2 I guess it would depend on the culture. I am honestly shocked as that outfit would be totally considered business causal on the west coast start up/tech industry, if anything it would be on the more fancier side as engineers come in crocs and sweats and even in my sales role when I wasn’t with clients I would wear lululemon outfits constantly. Now that I’m on the east coast I see people dress a bit more tidier and conservatively but I would be shocked that the top is considered inappropriate. I have a few of those tops myself (those are blouses but with shoulders out). I also got 3 job offers from highly respectable companies (baseball giant, broadcast company and the Madmen agency) wearing a nice blouse with no sleeves at all to ALL my interviews (not tank top straps and covered cleavage just no sleeves). I honestly think the view is outdated. As long as it fits and nothing is exposed (chest/bra straps, etc) it should be fine. Unless the dress code is a full suit ( not business casual then) I don’t see the big deal.

    1. Gov Worker*

      I totally agree. Wearing all black cold shoulder pants outfit today. I’m 61 and in a government office, not public facing. The only problem I see is when people wear housecleaning or gardening attire, just sloppy. But there is no dress code here, so anything goes. BTW my top has wide shoulder coverage and fully covers the chest too, and has 3/4 length sleeves and is long and flowy. It’s actually pretty conservative.

    2. CheeryO*

      It depends on office culture. I work in a pretty casual office with no real dress code, but if I showed up to work in a top with shoulder cutouts, even if it was a perfectly professional blouse otherwise, I would get major side-eye. My coworkers are… not aware of fashion trends (to put it kindly), and cutouts are kind of evocative of clubwear. It would just be tone deaf.

    3. OP#2*

      Hi JS- Sleeveless tops that don’t show your bra are o.k. Our manager thinks it’s too casual and as you know, there is always someone who is willing to push the boundaries. He doesn’t want to get in a place where we are measuring tops, skirts or spending too much time monitoring clothing.

      The tops in question were made of a silky/rayon type material and I think a few were made of cotton.

      1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

        Hmm. That’s confusing, then. The same top with no sleeves would be fine, but with a sleeve with a cutout in it wouldn’t be ok? It’s hard to understand the logic in that.

      2. JS*

        I think there is always going to be someone pushing boundaries in some aspect though. I understand not wanting to waste time policing it. I read a bit about your museum workplace and I understand why you would be more buttoned up. I actually wouldn’t call your workplace business casual at all but more uniformed and conservative since you mentioned the polos and suits. I think that if you are to allow no show sleeveless shirts that not allowing cold shoulder is a bit hypocritical. That said there is an obvious difference between a clubbing/flashy cold shoulder and a covered/more conservative one. I think the majority of adults can tell the difference and make the right call. If they don’t then that’s when you have to bring them asside and make it more about what is unacceptable about the specific top than just say “this particular cold shoulder is unacceptable”. You need to only deal with specifics and say something like “Anna, your top is too glittery/loud(vibrant colored if that is a rule)/bedazzled/revealing(if it exposes too much chest or mid-drift peeks out)/sheer/strappy (the no spaghetti strap rule can apply here if the straps are stringy even if there are sleeves) or the material is unacceptable (if this is a rule as well for other shirts)” this way it addresses a particular problem with her shirt other than the type because a lot of these things could apply to other styles of shirts that would otherwise be completely acceptable.

        1. OP#2*

          It is kind of confusing re: sleeveless vs.cold shoulder. All I can say is that when ladies do wear sleeveless they have a cardigan/sweater/blazer/jacket and if they go into the public spaces of the museum they put that on, but if they are just at their desk working they don’t have to wear it.

          1. Ann O.*

            What would be the issue with following the same rule with cold shoulder tops? This really doesn’t seem worth the time and energy your manager is spending on this. Cover up shoulders in the public spaces of the museum, but it’s okay to take off the cardigan/sweater/blazer/jacket at your desk. Done.

              1. Ann O.*

                But why? Why ban an item of clothing out of some arbitrary feeling of casualness when a very similar item of clothing is deemed fine and isn’t causing problems? What gain is there?

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  Because it’s pretty commonly accepted that cut-outs aren’t appropriate office wear. The fact that they’re fine in some offices doesn’t negate the fact that it’s really common for them not to be.

                  You could just as easily ask why ban sweatpants or flip flops or tank dresses or any of the other numerous things that are commonly considered not business wear.

  24. Aloot*

    #1: If she missed the flight because of something that was forseeable, then yes, I do think she should cover the ticket out pocket. Like leaving from home and not accounting for traffic or lines at the security gates, since that is something any reasonable person would’ve baked into their travel time.

    But a panic attack hardly seems like something forseeable (unless she knowingly exposed herself to a triggering subject at such a time that making it to the flight would be impossible, which sounds *incredibly* implausable to me). As far as I know, panic attacks aren’t even like the flu, where you might feel it coming on the night before and can make some attempts to mitigate it. Panic attacks aren’t “oh, I was a bit scared!” I’ve heard several people describe it as “I genuinely thought I was dying and it was *terrifying*.”

    So perhaps ask yourself instead if you’d make her pay if she ended up in a no-fault car accident on the way to the airport?

    #2: If he finds the tops inappropriate and he has the authority to make the employees stop wearing them, then he needs to stop shopping around for others’ opinions on it and just put his foot down on the matter. He’s a manager, manage! Just because an employee threw a tantrum about it last year doesn’t mean he’s doing something wrong.
    (Frankly, if the same employee had another tanty about the same issue I’d have a serious talk with her about professional conduct in the workplace, with a verbal warning to accompany it if necessary. This kind of behavior is manipulative and more fitting for toddlers!)

    #3: Since you don’t really know *why* she didn’t get the promotion, hold off on the quitting thoughts. (As they say, a story has three sides: mine, yours, and the truth in the middle.) If they really aren’t valuing good employees, they’ll show their hand soon enough, but resigning after that short a time is cutting off your own nose to spite your face.

    1. Admin Assistant*

      “If she missed the flight because of something that was forseeable, then yes, I do think she should cover the ticket out pocket. Like leaving from home and not accounting for traffic or lines at the security gates, since that is something any reasonable person would’ve baked into their travel time.”

      I think this is really hard to enforce, as people are human and things come up. It’s one thing if the employee has a demonstrated habit of missing flights due to carelessness, but I think it would really blow to have my employer charge me a few hundred, or even a few thousand, dollars because I slept through my alarm or accidentally forgot my passport or something. That would feel really shitty. This can all be mitigated if employers do the smart thing and buy transferable/refundable tickets. It’s the cost of doing business.

      1. fposte*

        Yeah, this is where I fall. Kind of like if an employee tips something liquid into a computer, I don’t make them replace the computer. (I may limit their possible locations for beverages in future, but that’s another matter.)

      2. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

        Right. It would be strange to hold employees personally and financially accountable for that specific business expense when we typically don’t for other things. (I also feel this way about requiring employees to pay for lost/broken company phones, laptops, etc.)

        If I miss a deadline on a grant report, which causes us to lose $200,000 in funding, I may lose my job but I wouldn’t be asked to pay out of pocket for my mistake. Why is this different?

        1. LBK*

          Right – if this employee is continually costing the company extra money, she should be fired, not billed (assuming the ADA isn’t at play).

      3. Aloot*

        I agree that it would be rather difficult to enforce, and I was mostly thinking of scenarios like “I missed the flight, I left 30 minutes before it was leaving” when the employee lives 25 minutes away from the airport.

        I didn’t write it (though I should have) that I do think that the first or even second offence should be written off as a loss, but after that it should fall on the employee (after being warned about it beforehand, though – it should be abundantly clear what the consequence of missing a flight for the third time would be). *If* it’s the *same* reason for all three occasions.

    2. IrishEm*

      Panic attacks aren’t “oh, I was a bit scared!” I’ve heard several people describe it as “I genuinely thought I was dying and it was *terrifying*.” This +100000000000000

      The last panic attack I had genuinely felt like a heart attack. It happened when my dog escaped (because my cousin didn’t believe she would run away while he took a break getting something to eat while moving in and left the gate open) and I lost the use of my legs (in that I couldn’t stand) I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t think and IT REALLY HURT. And nobody who doesn’t experience panic attacks (like the aforementioned cousin of mine) Do Not Get how traumatic they are. And dismissal ironically makes people (or me, anyway) more likely to have more, worse attacks in the future. Lovely. I hope OP’s employee gets all the support she needs.

      1. fposte*

        I don’t know. I’ve had panic attacks, and I’ve had people who don’t have panic attacks demonstrate a pretty good understanding of what they can be like. I get that some people don’t, and there’s a difference between imagining and experience with anything, but I think there are plenty of people with reasonable ability to guess.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          I think it’s fair to say people are capable of sympathizing but perhaps not empathizing. Like, I think I get panic attacks intellectually, but I doubt I’ve had the same physiological or psychological reaction to folks who do have them. And in that sense, I won’t “know” what the trauma of one feels like, but I can imagine what it feels like or try to analogize as a way of understanding a person’s experience.

          1. Casuan*

            Yes, totally agree!
            One needn’t have a personal experience to know how awful or wonderful it can be.
            That said, one can never truly understand the dynamics if one hasn’t personally experienced such an event. When we try to understand something we haven’t personally experienced, short of doing/having ourselves, analogies are a good way to grasp the concept.

            PCBH, when I first read your post I took what you wrote to mean that you get intellectual panic attacks. I thought “Oh, I totally get that! Like when Iuse the wrong word on something that I have no power to change, such as a blog comment…
            *to be clear, I know what PCBH really meant & by no means am I implying that in any way a hypothetical “intellectual panic attack” is even close to a true panic attack*

            1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              Haha, I’m glad it made sense! I actually reread that line a few times to figure out if it looked like I was saying that “intellectual panic attacks” are a thing. :)

  25. NYC Weez*

    OP #3: To Alison’s point, sure, there can be a lot of “soft” reasons why you got the job. My manager was hired to step in and manage the previous manager bc he was a terrible people leader. She has less practical experience than him but she is way better at working with people. However, I’m struck by the fact that you describe this employee as your “only ally” at the company and describe a manager that sounds dismissive of your opinion on that employee without providing any context. At only four months in, I wouldn’t expect you to already be best buddies with everyone, but I would expect that you’d at least feel like you are starting to build a network there. If you’ve been swamped trying to learn all the particulars about your job and been in a silo, then maybe you should now start to reach out and get to know other people in the company. If you have reached out and been rebuffed, then I might start looking to see what other opportunities are out there. Even when you become familiar with the functional tasks of your job, it can be very draining to feel like no one is in your court.

    1. Halls of Montezuma*

      Yes, the part where OP feels like she had no allies but this employee is concerning. If there were soft skill issues with this employee, taking training and advice from just her may be directly causing the lack of solid relationship building with others. OP should sit down with the boss and make sure she understands what key customers/stakeholders she needs to have good working relationships with and then actively work on them.

      If this was just hyperbole because no one else feels like this employee has been poorly treated, then OP should take that as a sign that maybe there were good reasons for not being selected for the promotion but people are not willing to bring them up with someone singing the employee’s praises.

      1. OP #3*

        This is OP #3. To better explain that…the type of work my office does is different than what the rest of the company does. So I have a lot of meetings with internal clients (and external for that matter) but there is an education process in terms of what we do and why it is important. So it’s a bit harder to have close colleagues with those outside my work unit and I’m still figuring out the culture of the organization but it’s generally more reserved than previous job (and a little hostile to the type of work I do). I believe strongly in giving praise where it is due (particularly of my employees) so I let people know who is helping me and how but I’m savvy enough (I hope) to not go overboard while still learning the culture.

  26. Chloe Silverado*

    #2 Not weighing in on the top itself, but if your manager decides that cold-shoulder tops are inappropriate for the office, he should let the individuals who are wearing them know immediately. Dress code-related melt downs happen when managers don’t say anything until after the offensive garment(s) have been worn repeatedly. It’s embarrassing for an employee to find out that people think their favorite outfit that they’ve worn 6 times is inappropriate! A coworker of mine dressed inappropriately for our business-professional office. Her attire was very trendy – fine for some offices, not for ours where many people wear suits. She wasn’t told for about 6 months. She was new-ish to the work force and in her mind she was wearing appropriate office clothes for a non-client facing position. She was mortified to find out she was being judged all that time and cried in the bathroom. It wasn’t a scene like the OP describes (that’s definitely overboard!) but I understand having a negative reaction out of embarrassment if the issue hasn’t been addressed in a timely fashion.

    1. Chloe Silverado*

      As an aside, I didn’t say anything to her because I wasn’t close to her, I didn’t think her clothes were totally inappropriate and she was not client facing. I also figured the boss and HR had no problem with it since it continued. I only found out because of the crying in the bathroom incident.

    2. Allison*

      Yes! Say something! Any time I find out I’ve been doing something bad for months, but only do I feel embarrassed and guilty, but I’m frustrated with the person who said nothing until it got to be a huge problem. I can see not saying anything the first time, if it seems like maybe it’s a one-off, but second or third time, speak up! I try really hard to be a good person – considerate, respectful, and appropriate at all times. If I break a rule, it’s either because I don’t know about the rule or I’m under the impression that it’s outdated, never enforced, and no one really cares. If I do a thing and no one says anything, how am I supposed to know they don’t like it? I’m not a mind reader! I can usually pick up on “vibes” – facial expressions, body languages, noises like tsk, hmm, tut, etc. but they’re so vague and reading between the lines is tough, using words to express how you feel is the best way to communicate with people.

      1. Allison*

        I would also add that if you’ve been doing something for a while, you’re used to it, you’re under the impression it’s allowed and you enjoy the ability to do it, suddenly being told that you can’t do it anymore can feel like a rug being pulled out from under you, so that can result in bad feelings too. This is another reason why you address unwanted behavior and rulebreaking sooner than later, the longer you wait the harder it’s gonna be for both of you.

    3. paul*


      I had some learning curve–particularly for casual Friday–when I started in the workforce, and I’m (in hindsight) grateful that any issues were addressed quickly.

      Although I still say you need to provide company branded T’s in tall sizes if you want people to A: wear them and B: not have our stomach’s exposed anytime we move. I’m 6′ witha 26″ inseam, I need longer shirts damnit.

    4. OP#2*

      I agree. I told him that he needed to make a decision so we could put the issue to rest, hence seeking the advice of Alison and the commenters here.

  27. Surrogate Tongue Pop*

    #2 – I think it’s really case dependent. If your boss/company wants to provide a written dress code, I think that’s fine. I’d rather have one, than not. I double triple checked when I started my job last year that jeans were OK for everyone. Even so, I went to my first big cheeses meeting with slacks and a blazer…then saw they were all wearing jeans. So. Take a cue from others and also adhere to any written dress code and voila! You can still be cute and fashionable within those parameters. RE: cold shoulder tops, I think it varies if it’s not specifically in a dress code. I’ve seen our CEO wear cold-shoulder-ish/drape-y sleeve cut-out type tops. But the material and the cut made them more polished than, say a cold shoulder sweater (as pictured in link). So…the manager/company should provide a written dress code to everyone or he’ll need to have the awkward conversations without one. It sounds like he is afraid to do the latter, so using the former to back up any conversations he needs to have may be the option.

    1. OP#2*

      Hi Surrogate Tongue Pop- we actually do have a written dress code. It’s a couple paragraphs long. I did post a line out of it before but here is more of what it says:
      Section 20.15 Professional Appearance Policy
      All personnel are required to dress professionally and appropriately during regular business hours or while working at the office. Good judgment and taste is always required. Each employee is a representative of the Organization in the eyes of our clients and the public, so it is important that each employee report to work properly groomed and wearing appropriate dress. In addition, items of clothing that display sexual or other potentially offensive statements, logos or designs are prohibited.

      The Organization strives to maintain a professional public image. The personal appearance, quality of service, and positive attitude of all of our employees are essential to creating and maintaining a favorable public image.

      Work attire should be conservative, in good taste, and promote a businesslike professional attitude and image in keeping with each specific job. Extreme forms of dress, hairstyle, or makeup are not acceptable.

      To further the Organization’s image as a professional Organization, employees are to keep any and all tattoos and/or brands covered at all times in a manner that ensures the tattoo or brand is not visible. Offensive, racist, erotic or suggestive tattoos or brands or tattoos or brands on the face, neck or hands will disqualify you from employment with the Organization.

      Jewelry worn in a piercing of any body part (other than one piercing of each ear lobe is to be removed while at work). Offensive, excessive and/or dangling jewelry is not allowed. An excessive number of vacant holes in the face, neck, ears or other body parts or vacant piercings that are overtly visible, may disqualify you from employment at the Organization. Earrings, hair below the collar line and untrimmed facial hair are specifically prohibited for male employees.

      Flip-flops, t-shirts, tank-tops and excessively revealing clothing are not allowed.

      Employees who, at the sole discretion of the Organization, are in violation of this policy will be sent home to change into suitable attire and such time will be unpaid. Repeated violations will subject you to further disciplinary action up to and including termination.

      1. MegaMoose, Esq*

        Having read through all the back and forth here, and looked at a number of examples people have linked, I think it’s fair to categorize these with tank-tops. I might suggest rephrasing the dress-code to ban tops that bare the shoulders. This is clearly going to be region and profession specific, but it actually seems like a decent line to draw without getting too detailed, and covers potentially inappropriate male clothing as well.

        Also, I’m totally getting the impression that someone in your office showed up with a brand at some point – I haven’t seen that mentioned in a lot of dress codes before! I’m getting the impression that your office might have a decent amount of younger and/or more trend-conscious employees?

      2. JS*

        Op #2
        “Work attire should be conservative, in good taste, and promote a businesslike professional attitude and image in keeping with each specific job. ”

        I think this is the biggest thing right here. In your letter you said “business casual” however, in clear terms your employer rules say “business professional”. If it’s business professional then that means everyone shows up in a suit, slacks, knee length skirt or blouse with camisole everyday. Not much flexibility here. From your comments it kinda seems like in practice you all are a bit more lenient than your rules. You either need to fully inforce business professional or change the rules to business casual. Riding the line in between will only cause you and your boss more headache having to address many issues because you all allow dress that isn’t business professional even though your rules point that out plainly. Everything therefore can be considered passible (or employees will try) since the rules there aren’t enforced.

        1. OP#2*

          I see what you are saying, JS, however, I was told by the Director of Operations that we are “business casual” so that is the wording I used. She definitely wears “business professional” clothing, but her type of outfits would not be worn by the field trip guides, store or front desk staff. The staff members who wore the cold-shoulder shirts were the guest services manager, marketing associate and volunteer manager. My manager (who is the Executive Director) wears a suit and tie everyday but the exhibit manager would not wear a suit and tie because of the nature of his work- painting, patching, prepping exhibits to go out.

          1. Jessie the First (or second)*

            You might be running into this problem because the way you describe the dress code here (business casual) does not align with what the words of your dress code say (business).

            So, if there is a disconnect between the written dress code and the actual in-practice dress code, that is going to lead to confusion, and people wearing things you don’t think they should. And then at some point resentment or frustration. I’d seriously consider reworking either the written dress code or your/the higher ups’ description of the dress code, so that they align. Because they don’t seem to align right now. Enforcement is easier if it is all clear. Maybe some time actually hashing it out and making sure it makes sense and is consistent would be a good thing to do.

          2. JS*

            That’s the problem though! What you are being told, what is in the rules and what is enforced is all different. If Director of Operations says “business casual” then they need to rework the written dress code to reflect that as it does not reflect business casual at all. It seems is your situation is a bit unique as you have many different people in different functions which require different states of dress. This right away tells me that one-fits-all code isn’t going to fly. It would be better if you had a code per department/role. I know your boss or even Director of Operations probably has better things to do then rework the dress code but it seems as your company does care and monitor the state of dress so it would be important in the future to avoid these issues. Also what if that employee with the cold shoulder asked Director of Operations and they said it was OK but then their boss or your boss didn’t? That’s a problem when the rules say one thing but exceptions are being allowed. Sure you could straight up ban cold shoulder tops but fashion changes and with a strict written code and lax implementation/enforcement you are asking for this issue to come up again unless the bigger problem is solved.

        2. Perse's Mom*

          Yeah, many of the descriptors and limitations here are highly, highly conservative. This doesn’t read as business casual at all, really – it’s much more conservative business professional, right down to declaring how many earrings one can have in while at work and how long your male employees’ hair can be.

      3. specialist*

        I would say that those tops are not in line with this policy. This is more than business casual and I think your employees have been taking advantage of you. This policy reads like they want professional and not trendy. Those tops are trendy.

  28. Elemeno P.*

    OP 5, I relocated for my current job, and I told them that my start date was “one month after a firm offer.” I’m glad I did, because it took HR over a month to figure everything out. Since your company is reaching out to you a lot, it sounds like they’re trying to hire you and just need to get past the red tape.

  29. Atexit8*

    Two years ago, I applied for a job and interviewed in-person.
    The HR manager sent me three emails in the 2-3 months following the interview informing me that I was still under consideration. Then silence.
    I was not given the courtesy of a rejection email.

    1. Not Karen*

      Nice. I went through something similar, except I did a rejection e-mail – through the automated system.

    2. LoiraSafada*

      This has been my experience more often than not. Frankly, it’s infuriating. Although I’d almost rather not receive a rejection than get a form rejection with errors in it so it doesn’t even parse the applicant’s name and the job they were actually applying for. I got one (months and months after the fact) that actually said Dear [APPLICANT NAME], Thank you for applying for [POSITION TITLE].

  30. Trout 'Waver*

    OP#1, I get the frustration, but please see this as a medical issue. Resist the urge to feel the need to punish the employee.

  31. Czhorat*

    OP5 – Is there anyone in the organization or industry who you can ask about the hiring process? I had an interview in late April or early May of last year. It went to second and third interviews, a talk with a technical person and plenty of assurances that I was a strong candidate and being considered. Through May.
    And June.
    And July.

    I did learn through the grapevine [and was told by the hiring manager] that this organization was very deliberate in their process; they wanted to take the time to be sure they had the right candidate. Even so, I was starting to despair. Finally, I got an offer. I think sometime in September.

    The moral of the story? Some organizations take their time. They were communicative with me to some extent, but not always pro-active in their communications. There was lots of me persuing them for updates, and a moving-target for when they’d likely make a decision.

    Moral of the story? Some organizations – especially if they don’t have an urgent and immediate need – hire slowly.

  32. Sunshine Brite*

    #1: I would re-evaluate the type of tickets you buy. If they are non-transferable, non-refundable, etc. you may want to consider other airlines, package options, etc. If these weren’t business class tickets you may want to consider that.

    Also, it can be the placement in the aircraft too. My husband had a panic attack on a flight that was overbooked and full to the brim. He was on the furthest in seat for a change; I usually snipe window. I was middle and the guy on the other side of me wouldn’t let us out. He was super condescending to me and was like “where do you think you’re going? First time flying?” We only had carry-ons that we didn’t need to go into the overhead bins for and just wanted off that suffocating flight. That stuck feeling really pushed him over the top and sent him into a panic attack. This was at the end of the flight but could’ve easily happened at the beginning once it looked like almost every seat was filled, they were asking for volunteers to get off, and then sat an entire basketball team.

  33. K.*

    I was just having a conversation with two coworkers about how we all need new clothes now that the weather has broken, and how it’s hard to find stuff because all the shirts are “cold shoulder” and thus inappropriate for work. My shoulders are one of my favorite parts of my body so I would and do wear off-the-shoulder tops outside of work, but never at work. I wouldn’t wear a dress with cutouts anywhere to work either.

  34. Menacia*

    I work in a business casual environment and every year at this time HR posts a Dress Code Reminder because inevitably, someone (usually in our customer service department who deal with customers over the phone only) will come in wearing something wildly inappropriate (think tight jeggings, short skirts, revealing tops, etc.). One or two of the women I work with feel it’s nothing to show up wearing spaghetti strap tops or low cut (off the shoulder) blouses. To me, this is not the place for that type of attire.

    1. OP#2*

      Hi Menacia- our manager would immediately say something about spaghetti strap tops or off the shoulder blouses. The coworker that made the scene last year was wearing tights and a sheer white blouse with tank top underneath.

  35. Allison*

    #2 One of my coworkers at my new job wears those tops a lot. It struck me as an odd choice for work attire, but we’re a relatively laid back office, and I’m not one to clutch my pearls at other women’s clothing.

    That said, I could absolutely see how they would be frowned upon in more conventional office environments, just like tank tops or open toed shoes, or anything else with a cutout in the back area or keyhole in the front. Management is absolutely allowed to say that this or that item of clothing is inappropriate for their office, even if there’s no official dress code or the item doesn’t violate the letter of whatever dress code is in place. However, prohibiting a popular item of clothing may cause morale issues, so having some reasoning in place to back up the decision is absolutely fine. Sometimes something strikes you as odd and you can’t figure out why until other people explain why they also find it odd, or inappropriate, or whatever.

    1. OP#2*

      Hi Allison- I think I am going to recommend that we update the dress code and use specific examples. I agree with my manager that they are not work attire, but I can see how in a trendier city, such as New York or a city on the West Coast, these types of shirts would be fine.

  36. Qmatilda*

    #4. I’m currently hosting (via air bnb) an intern who’s living in my city for 6 months. He’s struggling a bit with the money, but came here for the experience/opportunity.

    Don’t overlook out of town candidates. People will find ways to make it work.

  37. Spreadsheets and Books*

    Wore a cold shoulder shirt to work like a week ago, as I’ve seen them on other people in my NYC office (F500 in Midtown, business casual environment) and thought nothing of it.

    Now I am doubting my entire perception of what is appropriate here. Woah.

    1. HungryBeforeLunch*

      Me too, as I found nothing inappropriate in that example at all as it would hide bra straps and it’s rather subtle. My daughter loved it and she’s 11. No one would bat an eye at that at my current workplace and not likely as several of my past ones either.

      I’m confused really….but to each their own. After all, if one workplace can mandate that you have to wear leather shoes, which I find absurd, then they can mandate no confusing cutouts in shirts.

    2. kapers*

      Nah, you’re fine. NYC here.

      If you can wear sleeveless, and the upper part covers as much as a sleeveless top, then you’re actually more covered. So it really is about judging women. I wish people would examine why they think things are “just inappropriate,” really investigate whether there’s sexism at play.

      All the pushback is making me glad I’m not in a more conservative area/industry.

    3. OP#2*

      I think in places like New York where there’s more fashion forward offices, the top would be fine.

  38. LavaLamp*

    These dress code talks always make me love my office. No one cares as long as it’s inoffensive and the proper bits are covered. One thing my boss did upon hiring me was to go over the dress code and give examples of what’s okay and what isn’t with caveats to the safety of your job (no jewelry on the production floor, etc). I wish more people would get that benefit of mentorship o guess you could call it

    1. Kowalski! Options!*

      Yeah. At CurrentJob the dress code is pretty relaxed for both men and women; there’s a culture of “dress for the job you want, not the job you have”, so since it’s government, not corporate, there’s a fair amount of diversity in what people wear (mind, I think they’d draw the line at PJs and surfer shorts, though I have seen a fair number of band t-shirts and full-sleeve tats on the men and women around here). At FirstJob, which was at a centuries-old British insurance company, the dress code for both men and women was super-strict: navy, black or dark grey only, only white or light blue shirts for men, no brightly-colored ties, and the hemlines of women’s skirts had to hit the floor if she knelt down. No elaborate, flashy jewelry on anyone. It sounds awful, but it made shopping for clothes and getting dressed in the morning a breeze. To this day I won’t buy a skirt if I don’t think it’d pass the FirstJob test.

  39. Shadow*

    I know I’m going to catch flack for this but I’d have a major problem with #1. I would definitely sit her down and ask her to explain what happened, whether it impacts her ability to fly in the future or whether it may impact her job in other areas. I’d be really really concerned about being able to rely on her. I think this is far different from say the flu because this phobia/anxiety is more likely caused by some part of her job- likely stress or simply the fear of flying.

    1. Admin Assistant*

      I think you’re speculating about the nature of this employee’s panic attacks in a way that’s not fair.

      1. blackcat*

        Yeah, as someone who has suffered a panic disorder (PTSD) in the past due to an assault, I would have 1) not wanted to share the reason for my panic disorder with my employer and 2) wouldn’t want them to assume that it had to do with work.

        1. Admin Assistant*

          Yeah, there’s no reason to assume that it had to do with flying/work. If it does have to do with flying, it would make sense to address that with your employer not so much for THEIR benefit, but for yours so that you can avoid situations that trigger your panic attacks.

          But regardless, speculating that “it may impact her job in other areas” and whether you’d be “able to rely on her” really stigmatizes mental illness in a way that people don’t tend to do with more physical illnesses/ailments/disabilities. Just as it would be shitty to cast these aspersions on someone with, say, Crohn’s disease, epilepsy, or vision loss, it’s unfair and marginalizing to do so with regards to mental illness. Attitudes like this are why I don’t disclose my anxiety, occasional panic attacks, and therapy appointments to employers because I know there’s a good chance I’ll be judged for them or seen as potentially “unreliable.”

          1. Shadow*

            thats why I’d talk to her. If it’s already affecting her job it’s a pretty reasonable to wonder whether it may continue to.

        2. Shadow*

          So skipping a flight and missing whatever work assignment is the appropriate way to handle it?

          1. Admin Assistant*

            Would you say the same thing if someone with endometriosis was in too much pain to leave their home and get on a plane, or if someone with a chronic digestive illness was chained to the toilet, that missing work/a flight was “inappropriate?”

            1. fposte*

              If I missed a flight because of my Crohn’s, I don’t think it’s appropriateness should be discussed, but whether I was able to do the necessary business travel in future is absolutely up for discussion.

              1. blackcat*

                Yeah, and it’s a panic disorder (not just a one-off event), I think that’s fair here, too.

                But it should be framed like any other discussion for reasonable accommodations. Having Crohn’s isn’t a character flaw and is unrelated to work (though, by my understanding, stress related to work could make it worse). Same goes for many (most?) panic attacks.

                1. fposte*

                  Yup, totally agree. (And travel makes it worse, at least for me!) But then in general I don’t think missed travel is best dealt with by being blamey.

              2. Admin Assistant*

                My response was to the implication above that her panic attacks “may impact her job in other areas.” I do agree that it’s up for discussion with regards to necessary business travel, and there are of course some jobs where business travel is nonnegotiable and you can’t really employ someone who is unable to fulfill that job requirement. We don’t know if it’s the case here, though. We don’t even know if the panic attack had anything to do with the flight.

              3. Biff*

                I agree here. I think the phrasing for the conversation needs to be very careful, but it does bear discussion. If the job requires, or will start requiring quite a bit of travel, it’s critical to know if this panic attack came out of nowhere, or if the employee has issues with travel that can be better accommodated or dealt with. For all we know, the employee will say “this hasn’t cropped up in years, I was surprised that it did, but I can definitely get some xanax from my doctor for the next flight.” Or, “This came out of absolutely nowhere, normally I love flying.”

                It’s possible that some of the traveling can be rerouted to trains, depending on location.

      2. Shadow*

        Yes it’s speculation, but if these are panic attacks then she has a diagnosed panic disorder and should already know what sort of avoidance, precautionary or mitigating measures to take. The only way I’d give her a pass is if this was a first time thing which doesn’t sound like it is or she’d be calling it something else.

        1. Admin Assistant*

          Everyone has different ways of coping with panic attacks, and they don’t magically go away 100% through therapy, avoidance, or taking precautionary/mitigating measures. Let’s be generous and assume that the employee in this scenario is doing the best they can.

          1. Allison*

            Right. Coping strategies may not work if someone’s mental state is already compromised by, say, lack of sleep, or stress from other parts of their life.

            For me, my brain generally has an anxiety-defense system that allows it to identify and shut down troublesome thoughts before they cause problems. However, if I’m sleep deprived, or overwhelmed, my brain needs to reallocate its energy to more critical systems, and the anxiety defense system can’t function as well, so bad thoughts are able to enter, grow, and cause mayhem which can lead to a full-blown meltdown.

        2. Persephone Mulberry*

          The only way I’d give her a pass is if this was a first time thing which doesn’t sound like it is or she’d be calling it something else.

          I’m sorry, what?

          First, there are not panic attacks, plural, that we know of. There was one panic attack. And if it was this employee’s first panic attack, then no, they wouldn’t necessarily have a panic disorder diagnosis. And panic disorder diagnosis after one attack wouldn’t even necessarily be prudent. We have NO context to be armchair diagnosing this person.

          Second, what else would you call it besides a panic attack?

        3. Jessie the First (or second)*

          You don’t understand how anxiety disorders and panic attacks work, do you?

          This is really a terrible attitude. Also, you should read up on the ADA.

          1. Shadow*

            if her panic attacks are a disability she needs to get an accommodation before there’s a problem, not after. Having a disability doesn’t mean it’s okay to just not do a part of your job and ask for an accommodation afterwards. That’s why I said if this is a first time thing absolutely understandable, but if not then it’s not okay.

            1. fposte*

              That’s not true, though. Disabilities change sometimes, or they have unexpected impacts (are you going to similarly punish the guy who missed a flight because of a heart attack since he didn’t tell you he had angina?); additionally, people just plain get sick or have emergencies that can also lead to missed flights.

              You’re making the “United hauling the passenger off the plane” error, I think :-). The cost of the plane ticket is annoying, but it’s going to cost you a lot less than screwing up a relationship with your employees.

              1. Shadow*

                I’m not so bothered by the cost. I’d be bothered if she knew or should have known that the stress of a trip/flying was likely to cause a panic attack.

                1. fposte*

                  So would you say the same thing to the guy with angina who missed a flight because the stress escalated things to a heart attack?

                  Your goal is to fix things going forward, not to unpick things going backward. Honestly, even if she had a flying phobia and had missed a personal flight before because of this, I don’t think I’d make her pay for this one; it would just affect how I’d want to plan for her travel in future.

                2. Mary Dempster*

                  I agree with Shadow here. Plus, I have never known anyone whose anxiety was not completely managed thanks to medication, specifically benzos. As someone with anxiety and panic disorder who manages it actively, I think it’s completely fair to say that unless this was the first time this has happened, it IS on the shoulders of the employee who chose not to manage their disease. If they had come to the boss and said “I didn’t expect this, and this is what I’m doing in the future to make sure it doesn’t happen again…” then I think it’s fine, but a panic attack is not at all akin to a heart attack.

                3. fposte*

                  @Mary Dempsey–phobic and panic disorders are often pretty manageable, it’s true, but in the early days you don’t necessarily have the tools right (it took me a while), and they can get worse unexpectedly.

                  Which is why I compared to a heart attack in somebody with angina–or, if you like, somebody with a previous heart attack. They have a pre-existing condition that makes a heart attack highly possible. If they do have that possible heart attack, what will you do? Or we can use Crohn’s, which is also a chronic thing that can seem like it’s well-managed but get worse–what gain do you see out of focusing on the missed trip rather than what you want to do going forward?

                4. Shadow*

                  And a heart attack generally results in unplanned hospitalization which doesn’t sound like the case here

                5. Kj*

                  @ Mary Dempster- Benzo prescriptions can be HARD to get, depending on who you are, who your doctor is and what your history is. Please don’t assume that meds work for everyone or are accessible for everyone. When I had major anxiety, my doc for the longest time wouldn’t prescribe a PRN like a benzo.

                6. fposte*

                  @Shadow–then fine, make it Crohn’s.

                  But more to the point, what do you gain from being punitive that you wouldn’t gain from being forward-looking, and is it worth the loss?

                7. Mary Dempster*

                  I will assume that meds work for MOST people because they do. First-hand experience with family, friends, myself, and other people in an out-patient procedure, and they are not hard to get at all. If you have a job with health insurance, that is.

                8. Shadow*

                  I’d expect any employees to notify me if there is any condition that impacts or is likely to impact work. I’d expect them to tell me what to expect which would allow me to plan for it in advance regardless of how predictable or unpredictable the condition is.

                9. fposte*

                  @Shadow–how would you enforce this without breaching the ADA? You can’t require people to disclose their disabilities upon hiring.

                10. Shadow*

                  No, of course I wouldn’t require disclosure of disabilities. But Ada requires both parties to go through the interactive process when a request is made. You can’t unilaterally decide that you just won’t/can’t do that part of your job and think it’s okay. You have to give the employer an opportunity to accommodate which didn’t happen here.

            2. Jessie the First (or second)*

              “That’s why I said if this is a first time thing absolutely understandable, but if not then it’s not okay”

              I would have though it is obvious that there is not a magic pill or cure for panic attacks, and a well-managed disorder can experience breakthroughs. It’s analogous to other ailments – my son has epilepsy, which is controlled by medication and being aware of his environment (no strobe lights!) but it is not fool-proof, and there will sometimes be breakthrough seizures. Panic attacks can be well-controlled and managed – until they are not. So this blamey “it’s not okay” attitude is horrendous, frankly.

              Also, you do not understand the ADA. An employee does not have to think ahead to what might be needed -she is in fact allowed to realize that she needs an accommodation as things go along. And the employer is sometimes legally obligated to consider whether accommodations are needed, if it becomes aware of an issue, even if the employee has not explicitly asked for ADA accommodations. It is a complicated area of law and you are likely to run afoul of it if your attitude is to blame someone who suffers from a mental illness for having an episode of that illness break through.

              1. Jessie the First (or second)*

                Also, the idea that someone with a disability somehow has the obligation to ask for accommodation before there is a problem – you know, before there has actually been any evidence that work is actually affected – is rich. How does one ask for accommodations when there is no problem? Do you just start brainstorming all the things that could go wrong, but haven’t? Do you do that for everyone who has physical health issues, or do you target only people with mental health issues?

        4. blackcat*

          Yeah, my PTSD didn’t work that way, and panic disorders in general don’t.

          The only sure way to avoid any attacks was to be on medication so strong I couldn’t function. Given that I was fine 90% of the time, that wasn’t a trade off I was willing to make.

        5. Detective Amy Santiago*

          I guess I’ll be bowing out of this post now that the people who don’t understand mental health have shown up to explain to those of us who suffer from mental illness how we’re doing it wrong.

          1. Admin Assistant*

            Seriously, this thread is EXACTLY why I’m not forthcoming about my anxiety at work.

            1. Mary Dempster*

              I have pretty severe anxiety and have in the past, when not manged properly, had many hospitalizations due to anxiety and panic attacks, and I was terminated from two jobs over those years, and I thought that was totally fair. I was unable to perform the duties of my job. And it’s fair to ask if that’s going to be an issue in the future, and fair to say that the person should be actively managing their disease more effectively.

              To say that “this is why I’m not forthcoming about my anxiety at work” is just more damaging to yourself and other’s who deal with anxiety. Be forthcoming. Talk about it. Talk about what you’re actively doing to manage it.

              1. Jessie the First (or second)*

                “fair to say that the person should be actively managing their disease more effectively.”

                That is uncalled for speculation and judgment. OP wrote in because one time, a person had a single panic attack, and now we jump to she’s not managing her disease effectively?

                1. Mary Dempster*

                  Because it’s entirely possible to not have panic attacks at all, even when very severe, if you’re managing it properly. Again, speaking from personal, familial, and other patients I’ve known. I don’t think it’s uncalled for at all, though it may be speculation, but that’s all anyone is doing here with the fairly limited information we’re given anyhow!

                2. blackcat*

                  “Because it’s entirely possible to not have panic attacks at all, even when very severe, if you’re managing it properly. Again, speaking from personal, familial, and other patients I’ve known.”

                  This just isn’t true. It may be true for some types of anxiety disorders, but it is certainly not true for PTSD, particularly soon after the trauma (at that point, what triggers episodes and what those episodes are like is highly variable). Often the level of medications required to completely prevent *highly infrequent* panic attacks or dissociative episodes can render a person non-functioning (or unable to function for work).

                  You’re saying that it’s true for the people you know–fine, it may be. But I’m telling you that it was absolutely not true for me and other people I’ve known. I have also known one unfortunate soul with PTSD who is allergic to all benzos (aka the most effective medication).

                  We don’t know what was up with this employee. It’s entirely possible she has a problem that can’t be entirely prevented with medication.

                  Let’s not claim our experiences are universal.

        6. Alton*

          I don’t think that’s a fair assumption. Why wouldn’t she know to call it a panic attack if it was the first time? People who haven’t experienced panic attacks before can be aware of what they are, and sometimes panic attacks are formally diagnosed if, say, someone goes to the hospital because they think it’s a heart attack. There are a lot of variables here that we don’t know about, but there’s no indication that panic attacks have disrupted the employee’s work before, so it’s too soon to brand her as unreliable.

        7. LoiraSafada*

          That’s not true. I have had panic attacks before. I do not have diagnosed panic disorder because I do not have panic disorder.

    2. LN*

      The OP asked how to handle a cancelled flight reimbursement, not whether an employee with an anxiety disorder can handle their job. I don’t even think we really need to go there.

    3. Arduino*

      Wow. You clearly don’t understand how anxiety works. My mom unexpectedly passed away last month.

      Imagine my surprise when I started to have a panic attack at the eye doctor! Me – someone who has literally fought off a full grown sand tiger shark calmly and then continued the dive.

      It’s not predictable or likely to impact the employer just because it impacted them once.

  40. saby*

    Oh, dress codes…

    Being early career, in the past five years I had internships and co-ops and four- to six-month contracts at a variety of organizations before I got my current job. Business, business casual, and casual dress codes… I own so many clothes now. Always hard to tell what’s going to fly at a new office, but those cold shoulder tops definitely wouldn’t have worked at most of them.

    My current place of work doesn’t have a dress code (it’s academia-adjacent, not client facing, and meetings with vendors etc. are almost always by teleconference). People wear some very strange things! Here I find my problem is that all the work clothes I own from my previous jobs with businessy dress codes are too fancy and people look at me funny when I come in wearing a blazer or wool pants, or anything that would need to be ironed or dry cleaned really. I’ve settled into wearing jeans and funky thrift store tops with a whole closet full of suits and businessy dresses being unworn…

  41. Delta Delta*

    I had no idea those tops were called “cold shoulder shirts.” It’s a clever name! I probably wouldn’t wear that to work (since I’m a lawyer and I go to court with some frequency and I’m pretty sure those would never fly in court), but I can see where in a different kind of workplace it would be totally ok to wear it.

    I want to agree with the other commenters that a dress code, like any other policy, really should be clear and up front so that everyone knows about it sooner rather than later. That’ll avoid a meltdown and also avoid weird situations where maybe someone wears the offending garment 5 times before being told not to.

  42. Czhorat*

    One more thought on dress codes: the manager should ask why this is important, and step back to ask if it’s important.

    Because of fashion norms, dress codes tend to disproportionately constrain the choices of women; there are very few garments a man would plausibly wear to the office which would be forbidden by most dress codes. As is the case with saby above, it’s a set of policies which make it very challenging for a woman to create a dress-code friendly wardrobe.

    Are these employees customer-facing? Do they often meet with clients, vendors, or peers? If so, then you perhaps need some standards. If it’s all internal and the only issue is that it bothers a particular manager then it might make sense to loosen up a bit.

    1. Judy*

      In a comment, the OP said that these employees are at a museum and interact with school field trips daily. The male employees in this position are required to wear polos and khakis.

      1. Czhorat*

        Thank you. I missed that.

        I think I agree with fposte here: “Polos and khakis” across the board is a reasonable dress code for the situation, and they are public-facing enough that it makes sense to have some kind of dress expectation, even if not a requirement.

        1. OP#2*

          Hi Czhorat- we do have a written dress code ( I posted it in an early comment) and we over it with each employee during orientation.

    2. LN*

      You’re definitely not wrong, but “no sleeveless tops” is pretty well understood as a business-casual standard across genders, in fact if anything I’d say women actually have *more* leeway on this. Cold-shoulder isn’t exactly sleeveless, but I can understand how it could be in the same category. Bare shoulders are generally a signal of a very casual environment. Personally, I think it’s getting tough, especially in plus-size fashion where so many nice, dressy blouses are now cold-shoulder style because it’s very in right now. But it does make sense and it’s not inconsistent imho.

  43. em2mb*

    I haven’t had a chance to read through all the comments, but I was *just* talking to our intern coordinator about how our candidates from out-of-area are nearly always our top performers! I think it’s because they’re more likely to treat the internship like a full-time job than someone who’s already living here and may have a second job or family commitments. Once they’ve made an investment to move here, they also want to get the most out of the opportunity.

    I was also very excited to hear from one of our former interns this week – she’s on the West Coast, we’re in the Midwest. She took a chance and moved out here for a summer, and now she has a full-time job offer in our niche industry! So proud of her.

  44. Herdingcats*

    So in regards to #1, I’d be curious to hear your thoughts about if your company booked a flight for someone (not one of their employees but someone they were bringing in for a training) and then that trainee decided to attend another meeting elsewhere and no longer was going to use the ticket (non-refundable but available for flight credit). Would it still be inappropriate to make them reimburse the cost of the flight? Of note, this person had plenty of notice of dates and had already arranged for us to book her flight but then got notice after the fact that she was invited to a different meeting (not related to our organization) that she deemed more important than the training we were providing. This change of plans were no way related to an emergency.

    1. fposte*

      Can you clarify the relationship with the trainee? She wasn’t a customer or an employee? I think that will affect both the answer and your ability to actually get the money back from her.

      1. Herdingcats*

        We run a training program for researchers. None of the trainees are employees of the company I work for (funding for this project comes from a federal grant). They have to apply and be accepted into our program. We pay for their flights and accommodations for this training. They also have a general stipend for the first year.This person already had us pay for their flight and then decided after the fact that they didn’t want to attend because they wanted to attend another meeting instead. I suggested to this person we just take the remaining money from her stipend to cover the costs however they were upset claiming they planned on using that money elsewhere (we reimburse related costs from this stipend so they don’t actually have the money on hand). I’m just wondering if its appropriate for me to ask for reimbursement this way because in the grand scheme of accounting she is out money but so are we.

        1. fposte*

          This gets pretty inside baseball-y, I think; I would check with my funding agency for a start.

      2. Herdingcats*

        Also to clarify, we have written off lost flight costs before for last minute emergencies. This time just felt different because the person was making the knowing choice in advance not to attend after we had paid their travel.

        1. Czhorat*

          Did you state a policy up-front about this? If not, then I’d be reluctant to try to get money out of them.

          There also might not be a reasonable mechanism to do so. If you invoice them for it, they could simply ignore you.

    2. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

      When I used to manage a training program that covered participants’ flights, we asked them to pay for the flight up front and reimbursed them upon completion of the training.

  45. theletter*

    When in doubt, I always refer to the dress code of my local college preparatory school for appropriate work-wear guidance.

  46. Anna*

    #2 Is your question whether or not the tops should be allowed, or how to address the fact they’re not allowed? My office is business casual and I’ve seen several women wear open shoulder tops. I don’t know that I’d be comfortable wearing one to work, but I don’t have a problem with them and it doesn’t seem my office does either. However if your manager finds them inappropriate he should absolutely say something. If he’s afraid your coworker is going to have an explosive reaction that a whole other issue that needs to be addressed.

    1. OP#2*

      Hi Anna- He’s trying to decide if they should be allowed because he feels they are too casual for work. I’m thinking it’s going to be a no and after the outburst last year, he wants to make sure he’s addressing it in a way that doesn’t make the ladies feel embarrassed.

      1. Xarcady*

        One way to do that would be to simply say, “We are a business casual office. But it has been determined that the cold-shoulder tops currently in fashion are more ‘casual’ than ‘business,’ and we are asking you not to wear them to the office.”

        No one is mentioned by name, there is a reason given for banning the tops. If someone gets hysterical, that’s on them. If you can’t take a simple rule that in no way affects your work life, just a small part of your wardrobe, handed down by management without throwing a tantrum, then you have the problem, not management.

  47. Mary Dempster*

    I find #2 interesting because if it’s not appropriate at the workplace because there’s a more professional dress code, then fine, but I find sexualizing the shoulder akin to sexualizing the ankle. I see nothing different between something like this and, both of which are office appropriate to me, if you can wear sleeveless tops.

      1. Mary Dempster*

        Just my impression from a lot of the comments – people say they’re “clubbing” attire when they are no different than a sleeveless top. And like others said, the picture used in the letter is a very casual shirt, the one I posted is not at all. It’s not inherently inappropriate or casual if sleeveless tops are allowed.

        1. Emi.*

          Well, the people saying they look like clubbing attire are saying that they *are* different from a sleeveless top. Appropriateness isn’t just about the amount of skin shown, or bermuda shorts would be on the same level as pencil skirts of the same length. And they aren’t.

    1. OP#2*

      Hi Mary- he never said they were too “sexy”, he said that he feels they are too casual and something that you would wear on the weekend but not to work.

      1. Mary Dempster*

        My impression of sexualizing the shoulder came more from the comments, than your letter. If that’s the case, then I would hope they would have no issue with the link I posted of a cold-shoulder top, which I would think would definitely be considered as professional as the second top I posted.

        1. Mary Dempster*

          And actually, in re-reading your letter, this line: “He is afraid that as the weather gets warmer, the tops are going to get more revealing” implies that he does worry about the sexual and/or revealing nature of the tops, when not all of them are revealing.

          1. OP#2*

            Yes, I see that now. I think it may be a combo of both, as in he thinks they are too casual for work but he is also trying to keep it from becoming an issue of too revealing.

            I feel like I’m not explaining it right. I’ve worked with him for years and I have never gotten a vibe that he is trying to sexualize a woman’s shoulders or ankles or anything.

            1. Mary Dempster*

              Nah, but I did think the commentors were. I see nothing wrong with a work-appropriate cold shoulder top, but there are plenty that aren’t. Same with tank tops, shorts, skirts, etc. I just don’t like the generalization that they’re all somehow not appropriate.

              I disagree just as much with people saying that shorts can’t be business casual, when they can. See:

  48. TootsNYC*

    #5, lots of delays in the hiring process

    Alison wrote: “What’s less normal is how considerate they’re being by keeping you posted about what’s going on.”

    I agree! I think it sounds like they have a high regard for you. You might not get the offer–stay loose, mentally. But I think that either: (1) you definitely are one of their top contenders; or (b) they’re more organized and consider than many other places, actually.

    Hopefully it’s both. But this delay is not unusual at all.

    Best of luck!

  49. TootsNYC*

    Re: losing the cost of the ticket–

    considering how aggressively airlines overbook these days, i think we ought to start pressuring them to completely refund.

    Lots of localities have landlord laws that prevent a landlord from charging you rent if he succeeds in renting out the place you vacated before your lease was up. Maybe we need to insist that this happen w/airline seats as well.

  50. Winger*

    I worked for a company that produced a high-profile event that is really big in our industry. It’s located in a somewhat remote small city, and people travel from all over to attend. We always had interns apply from all over the country, and even occasionally Europe. We always made it super clear in all our materials that we couldn’t cover any of their expenses, although we did help house them during the event.

  51. OP#2*

    Hi everyone- OP #2 here. I just wanted to say thanks to Alison for answering my question and also thank you to the commenters for their input and comments. I’m almost certain the my manager (who is the Executive Director) is going to decide the cold-shoulder shirts are not o.k. for our office. I will recommend that he speak to the people individually, so as not to draw too much attention or potentially embarrass the ladies who wore them by making a blanket announcement. In order to change the wording of the handbook, the Director of Operations and HR would need to be involved and approve the changes.

    1. OP#2*

      Hit submit too fast! Re: changing the wording of the handbook, it would take a few weeks so if it’s addressed by my manager and that resolves it, I don’t think we would need to go that route.

  52. The Strand*

    Internships do not primarily exist to benefit the business or organization. They are supposed to benefit the *student*, who is giving free or inexpensive labor. The students who are offering to move across the country to work with you, are doing so because they are in an arms race for their future employment.

    I urge you to consider what Princess Consuela Banana Hammock is saying about structural inequities, whether it’s race or class or whatever, that would knock out some creative, hard working interns who could bring a solid perspective to your workplace for a year. Plenty of them would be willing to work for more than just a summer. Again – it’s an arms race out there.

    If anyone else is hiring interns specifically in a rural area or a super tight housing market, may I suggest that you at the very least, prepare an informational sheet for your prospective interns BEFORE you accept them.

    One of my college friends landed a very prestigious internship in the middle of nowhere. Imagine a location that is remote, has very little in the way of amenities of any kind, but which offers a unique scientific opportunity that most people only know of because of the movies. But again… about as remote as you can get and still be in CONUS.

    There was some kind of misunderstanding about housing help, and probably a failure to communicate on both sides. Apparently he drove out there (more than 2000 miles from our school on the East Coast) only to find that there was no housing, and not even a list of people he could call to find housing. He was upset, had an argument with the scientist in charge, who promptly fired him, and was stranded in a town that had no hotels, nothing, and was hours and at least one mountain range away from the nearest large city. He couldn’t go home for the summer, either – as it was 2,000 more miles away by car, and then more miles by plane, and he had sunk a lot of money into just getting there.

    At the time, I was really shocked that he had argued with the person in charge at a prestigious lab and gotten fired; but now I think it was pretty crappy to ask someone to do an internship somewhere in the middle of nowhere, and not even give them a “FAQ” sheet ahead of time, with a list of places to book their own place to stay.

    Yes, college students are supposed to get the training wheels off, but whether you’re running a conference, a Fortune 500 company recruiting the best workers you can, or hiring a new professor for your rural liberal arts college – it’s not unusual to at least make a list of housing information, bus routes, etc. Again, they’re helping you with free or low cost labor, and as their professional mentor, I don’t think it’s a huge imposition to at least refer them to some resources.

  53. Ask a Manager* Post author

    Internships do not primarily exist to benefit the business or organization. They are supposed to benefit the *student*

    Just to be clear, that’s true of unpaid internships. It’s not the rule for paid ones, and the OP’s is paid.

    I don’t disagree with your recommendations but wanted to clarify that.

  54. specialist*

    So the dress code is always an interesting topic. My staff wear scrubs most of the time. That doesn’t mean that I don’t have to address other things. I do not wear scrubs unless I am actually operating. So most of this applies only to me, but here goes:
    Hair is neat and clean with no colors that are not found naturally on the human head. No extreme styles. I don’t personally use plain hair bands but this is alright on the staff if desired.
    Make-up is tasteful (this is really important, we have variations from not much to quite a bit, as long as it is tasteful we are good, some staff are preferred to be wearing makeup)
    Earrings should be smaller than a quarter and not dangling. I tolerate occasional variance. No facial piercings other than the ears. I prefer only one earring on each ear and I do not like cartilage piercings. Earrings must be covered when in main OR.
    Jewelry should be clean and neat, I do not do diamonds or crystal during the day. No necklaces when in main OR, lanyard goes inside shirt. Jewelry is heavy on pearls for the most part, as they do well for business during office hours.
    No visible tattoos ever
    No clothing with logos other than mine, no obscene sayings, should be age appropriate. Clothing should be neat and clean and in good repair. No hoodies ever. Staff are provided jackets should they feel cold. Jackets are replaced when they look overly worn. Long or short sleeve shirts can be worn under the scrub top for warmth, should look appropriate with whatever top is worn that day. (Staff match scrub outfits every day, but have several different outfits, I buy.)
    No sleeveless tops, jackets are preferred. No excessive lace, ruffles, or frills. Cut outs are to be avoided. (cold shoulder tops are far too casual)
    Some areas demand bare below the elbows for healthcare providers. My area is not one of these, but I do like 3/4 sleeves anyhow.
    Bright colors are acceptable, but there are many offices similar to mine where they are not. Colors should match.
    Tops should not show much chest, prefer that they hit the second rib at a minimum. They shouldn’t be revealing when you bend over.
    Knit tops are acceptable if they are fine gauge and more suit-like in appearance
    No jeans ever.
    No shorts ever
    No open toed shoes and don’t even get me started on flip flops
    Athletic shoes that are clean and neat may be worn with scrubs. Not those toe shoe things. My shoes are dress shoes, although I wear clogs in the main OR. Flats are fine. Heels should look like they belong in an office, not a club.
    Socks or stockings must be worn. (state requirement)
    Skirts should at least touch the knee. Longer may be alright.
    Suits and separates are the most common outfits, but sometimes sheath dresses.
    Scents should be clean and not applied heavily.
    No glitter. No excessively flow-y fabrics. No sequins.
    Cardigans and sweater sets are weekend wear, acceptable for rounding on weekends but not for regular business days.
    No jeggings, no leggings, no tights masquerading as pants, no yoga pants (unless sitting in office on weekend typing charts with no patients coming by)
    Underwear and an appropriately supportive bra are required.
    No active tanning unless you have a vacation coming up. Regular tanning just to look tan should be avoided.

    I’ve actually had people coming in complaining about how they looked when actually the issue was that they couldn’t dress for their body type. I’ve had more than a few that had to be sent for a clothing consultation. You can’t fix a poor choice in clothing with surgery.

    Most of the tops I’ve seen as examples of cold shoulder shirts just look bad. With the possible exception of the one black shirt, nothing was work appropriate. Some of them look more like a fashion joke. (ruffle sewn across the bust line looks more like a bib) Even with my far more restrictive dress code, it is not hard to find things that work and are not that expensive. Most of my clothing is off the sale racks.

    For the younger, new to the work world, folks, you want to start with some really basic pieces and add a few of the more trendy things. Realize that the trendy things will end up in the donations bag long before a plain pair of black pants. Starting with black? Steer clear of navy. The two don’t mix together. You need more money and more pieces to have both black and navy in your wardrobe.

  55. LM1207*

    Oh, please! Seriously! If you do not know what is and isn’t appropriate attire for work, then you have issues. No, a cold shoulder top IS NOT appropriate for work. I don’t care if it looks professional. It is not appropriate. Period! I cannot believe in this day and age people have no clue how to dress properly for things. Each and every time it just baffles me. The same goes for interviews. Why in the world would a candidate show up to an interview wearing jeans, t-shirts, sneakers, skimpy tight clothing, etc.? It doesn’t matter what kind of job it is. Those items of clothing are simply unacceptable if you want to be taken seriously. It doesn’t cost much, or take much effort to buy a blouse and slacks, khakis, etc. Yet, I am appalled at the amount of people who don’t know any better, or just plain don’t care. Appearance matters. It makes an impression, either good or bad. You should care how you look and how others perceive you. You can tell a lot by a candidates choice of clothing when interviewing, or an employees attire on the job. The fact that someone has to ask if a certain type of clothing is acceptable shows that person is utterly clueless.

  56. SaraSmiles*

    #5, if it makes you feel any less frustrated, I had the same things occur recently: I did a Skype interview, they told me an in-person interview would be set up within a week. A week later I got an email saying they’d be in touch in another week to set up in-person interview . Then a week later,I got an email saying the owner and CfO are traveling so a meeting would be scheduled when they return the NEXT week. THEN I got an email the following week saying the organization is getting ready for a big event and they won’t be able to focus on hiring until the event is over in 3 weeks.

    I sort of stopped caring after the 2nd email update, but I truly was appreciative of the fact that they were keeping me in the loop. I’ve put it put it out of my head and figure if they ever get in touch to set up an actual 2nd interview, great. If not, I won’t be surprised.

  57. Willow Sunstar*

    #2 They are unprofessional and I would not buy one, let alone wear one. I don’t care how popular they are at clubs. I wouldn’t even wear one on a Saturday.

    However, we are allowed to wear clean jeans and sneakers in the office where I work. Our dress code does say no revealing or low-cut tops for women. I generally wear a camisole under things that are questionable and/or an infinity scarf over it, depending on the style.

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