LINDON — Many a politician has aspired to office with the promise to clean up City Hall. Lindon officials added a new twist to that mantra recently, one centered on public appearance rather than closed-door shenanigans.
The City Council has approved a new dress and hygiene policy statement outlining steps to be taken should a city worker come to work scantily dressed, smelling like a bar or looking downright scruffy. The policy gives department heads authority to send offending employees home to change or clean up, and they will have to do so without city compensation.
City Administrator Ott Dameron is quick to point out that the policy is intended as a prevention tool and not a response to an actual problem.
"In some cities, this has become an issue," Dameron said. "That's really what prompted this. We don't have a problem right now. But it's a good idea to have a policy in place before something happens."
Dameron said the "personal appearance and dress standards" policy was put on the table following a discussion with the city's insurance provider, Utah Risk Management Mutual Association.
"I think they (Lindon officials) came to us to ask if it's appropriate," said Dean Steele, the association's general manager. "Certainly the buck stops here."
Carl Parker, the insurance association's control manager, said cities are vulnerable to a lawsuit if an employee feels harassed or unfairly disciplined for their choice of dress or personal hygiene.
"For some positions, it's a safety issue, where loose or torn clothing can get caught in machinery," he said. "But I think we're concerned here with providing a work environment that conveys the image you want to convey to the public."
Parker said URMMA hasn't developed a sample policy for cities to copy; the actual language is left to the individual communities.
Dameron said Lindon first looked at what was being done in other cities and went from there with its own policy.
Included in the Lindon policy are directives stating:
Employees must be able to perform their jobs without interfering with other employees.
Employees must appear neat, clean and have no offensive odors. An employee's hair must be clean and groomed.
Employees must wear clothing appropriate to their employment, though appropriateness may vary depending upon the nature of the work performed and the degree of public contact.
The employee's clothing must not be torn or frayed and should not be "unduly revealing, immodest, or otherwise inappropriate for a professional office setting or other work environment."
One issue not addressed is strong perfumes or colognes, items which have been at issue in some workplace suits around the country.
Interpreting the policy will be mostly left to department heads, said Dameron. He noted department heads are in the best position to make determinations on appropriateness.
Those determined to be in violation of the policy will be verbally notified and sent home to change or bathe. They will not be compensated for the time away from the job and will not be able to use any form of paid leave to make up the lost wages.
Continued violations will result in more severe disciplinary action.
URMMA's Parker said Lindon is smart to put a policy in place before a problem arises. "You don't want to be caught flat-footed or be forced to make up policy as you go," he said.
Dameron said, "This does not require everyone to wear a shirt and tie or, conversely, shorts and a T-shirt. We're just clarifying the issues."