Is my employer required to provide uniforms that fit properly?
May 24, 2018 6:50 AM   Subscribe

My employer provides uniforms. We are being issued some specialized uniforms for a team we have been assigned to. Another small-framed coworker and I simply cannot wear the tops for these uniforms. They are comically large, far past the point of altering to fit. We have been told to suck it up because these are the uniforms. If my employer provides uniforms, are they required to provide ones that fit?

The coworker and I are both petite women. The uniforms being ordered are men's, and though women's styling isn't important here, women's sizes would go a long way toward solving the sizing issue.

These excessively baggy uniforms would impact both our safety and our professionalism. What's the right way to push back when those concerns are being ignored? It is disproportionately affecting women, but small enough people of any gender would have the same issue.

We look like we're trying to sneak into an R-rated movie. It's ridiculous.

Additionally, I'm just angry about it because it sends a message about who "really" belongs.
posted by hollyholly to Work & Money (14 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
- Do you know if their supplier offers women's sizes? How to proceed might differ depending on how easy/difficult it will be for the employer to just add sizes.

- I'd look into safety issues - that could be helpful.

- What kind of employer is it? A plumbing company might lend itself to a different approach than a large food service company.
posted by amtho at 7:18 AM on May 24, 2018

One of my committee members was a small-framed woman who told the department she would file a Title IX complaint if they did not purchase a size small graduation robes for faculty to borrow in addition to the size large graduation robes that male faculty in the department regularly used, and then met with university HR when they were resistant. The department now owns smaller robes as well. If they're really being resistant, you speak to HR (if that is an option) and/or tell your team manager directly and explicitly that this is discriminatory and undermines your professional appearance and safety.
posted by ChuraChura at 7:26 AM on May 24, 2018 [57 favorites]

Assuming you are in the US, you likely have no "rights" to an appropriately sized uniform- even OSHA issues don't really get very far in the current climate. Honestly, the best way to address this is to have a union, but getting a union is a difficult process, especially if you are in the South as your profile suggests. However, usually employers are fearful enough of unions that they will give in to some worker requests in order to avoid a union. A few well-placed comments such as "if we had a union we would have better uniforms" and "I hear unions often address gender discrimination at work" might put the fear of god/organized labor into them and get you the uniforms you need.
posted by cushie at 8:02 AM on May 24, 2018 [4 favorites]

You are bringing a problem to your management. Instead, try bringing a solution. Do a little digging to find out who produces the uniforms and if they have women’s versions in the same color. It can be surprisingly difficult to find clothes specific to both genders in the same exact shades, even with the same brand. I have found the same issues with men’s clothes if you need xxxl or xs shirts, the hue or texture is not exactly the same and they can have dramatically different looks. Even for a basic “white” shirt.

If you can do this work for them and all they have to do is approve the order, I would assume you would have a much better chance of getting a better fitting uniform.

Also, if your company is big enough to have a policy manual, check it for safety policy for personal protective equipment (PPE). Most are cookie cutter policies which state clothing must be well fitting and not too loose.
posted by Short End Of A Wishbone at 8:08 AM on May 24, 2018 [13 favorites]

Probably not, unless you work in an environment (e.g., food prep.) that would make baggy clothing a safety issue. U.S. employees don't have many rights when it comes to workplace dress codes.

It is absurd for employers to expect professionalism from employees forced to look like toddlers playing dress-up with daddy's clothes. I had this problem in one job. I bundled up the two extra feet of shirt fabric sloppily in a safety pin until the boss finally ordered shirts that fit.
posted by xylothek at 8:10 AM on May 24, 2018 [5 favorites]

To actually get action, I think focusing on the safety risk is the best bet.

For pure satisfaction value, I'd say, "Hey, since the fit of these uniforms really isn't important, I'm fine wearing this, as long as the NEXT order is all size extra small. Everyone bigger will just have to sqeeeeeeze into them, but that seems fair. As long as we alternate, I'm good. And if the idea of a bunch of big people being forced to wear tiny uniforms that they can't even button up seems humiliating, unprofessional, and maybe even downright dangerous to you, then ORDER DIFFERENT SIZES."
posted by Ausamor at 8:10 AM on May 24, 2018 [8 favorites]

Are you client facing? Overly large (or small) uniforms are sloppy looking and customers will wonder whats up with that. If your company is really too obtuse to realize that after you bring it up, would you be able to plant some clients that can mention to management that they were served (or whatever verb for your job) by a young woman who did fine, but her uniform was sloppy looking?

I also want to add that I would be concerned if they claimed there was some budget issue keeping them from ordering alternate sized uniforms. That's BS. I've worked for small mom and pop restaurants that had screen printed t shirt uniforms or embroidered logo uniforms and it was never an issue for me to be the only size small or kids large or whatever is appropriate for the shirt in question. IF they cant afford uniforms they are going under.
posted by WeekendJen at 8:21 AM on May 24, 2018 [1 favorite]

Ugh, what an ugly situation, pun intended. Your employer should not be doing this. Here are a couple points to arm yourself with:

1) An employer is not permitted to require that female employees wear men's uniforms. If the men are getting their medium, large and extra-large, rather than a "one size fits all", then the women should be offered individually sized uniforms as well.

2) Safety (you already mentioned this). Loose clothing can cause you to trip or get caught in equipment, chairs or doors; it's a workplace safety issue and an insurance liability.

3) In general, company policies are supposed to have a reasonable, non-discriminatory purpose, and should not burden one gender more than the other. The purpose of a workplace uniform is professionalism and branding; several sizes too large uniforms are at cross purposes with that.

If you management/HR are reasonable, they should get you properly fitting uniforms based on above, especially if you and co-worker go to complain together. If they resist, play the long game: keep coming at them every other week or so, with specific written complaints such as "several customers made fun of our uniforms this week", "I got caught in the doors and almost fell the second time this month" etc.

A couple small things before you go to management: take multiple photos of you and your co-worker in case this needs to go further, and call your state's labor and OSHA help lines (it's a long shot but it's free and you may hear something helpful).
posted by rada at 8:28 AM on May 24, 2018 [28 favorites]


I try to keep my head down in these kinds of situations - I'd prefer not to be a nuisance.

I think the path of least resistance if you just want the problem solved and don't care about the principle of the thing, is to get the thing altered. I know you said it's "past the point of alteration" but if you cut apart the shirt at every seam, there is hypothetically enough material to cut back together a well fitting shirt. With the correct instructions and the go-ahead, a experienced sower or tailor can make this happen. It's basically making a new shirt from an existing shirts fabric, then sowing it together as low-profile as possible.

Other options I have seen employees in similar situations is to tie a large knot on the side of the shirt, pulling all the excess fabric into the knot. It even looks kind of stylish. I've also seen ladies put a safety pin in the back pulling the excess fabric to the back.

If it's like, to your knees, then I would consider getting it hemmed. Any tailor can hem a shirt in a few minutes - and at the very least you can have the correctly lengthed shirt. Maybe do that and then tie the knot and add a safety pin.

I'd recommend not saying the words union unless you are ready to get fired - unfortunately, talking about unionizing is protected but you can be fired for "no reason" the next day.
posted by bbqturtle at 8:35 AM on May 24, 2018 [5 favorites]

With all due respect, if you are not a petite woman, it may be hard for you to picture just how unmanageably bad the fit of men's clothing is. We should believe OP when she says that the clothing is "far past the point of altering to fit" and would "would impact our safety". As a petite woman myself, american Men's Medium (which is typically the smallest size in these situations) means armholes that come to your elbows and the crotch that comes to your knees. It's not possible to walk or move your arms freely and it's not possible to clip, tie or alter it, unless you literally take it apart at the seams and use the fabric to make a very obviously all-new piece of clothing.
posted by rada at 8:50 AM on May 24, 2018 [70 favorites]

I know some firefighters with this problem, which is a situation where altering is truly not possible without compromising their safety, while the current fit also compromises safety. (They are getting the chance to order new uniforms soon and all but had a party at the news.)

I would be an awkward squeaky wheel with an easy solution to hand at all times. "Boss, I just lit my sleeve on fire welding because this coat is so large. This catalogue shows smaller sizes available. Can I order that, or do you have a different suggestion?" "Boss, this shirt is so large that my breasts are visible when I load the dishwasher, which seems very unprofessional. I found these matching polos online in more appropriate sizes. Can I order them? What should I do instead?"

Depending on where you're working, this could be considered workplace discrimination.
posted by tchemgrrl at 10:03 AM on May 24, 2018 [6 favorites]

> rada:
"As a petite woman myself, american Men's Medium (which is typically the smallest size in these situations) means armholes that come to your elbows and the crotch that comes to your knees."

Further to the point: Men's Medium vs. Women's Medium
posted by rhizome at 10:21 AM on May 24, 2018 [5 favorites]

If they order men's uniforms in more than one size, you should have good grounds for a gender discrimination lawsuit. (If not, you may have grounds for a lawsuit anyway, based on some of the other issues mentioned - safety features provided for men but not women; professional-looking attire for men and not women, etc.)

Laws on uniform requirements are sparse, other than those affected by religion, because most companies have the sense to put all their employees in clothes that fit. Details vary by state; in California, if the job requires a uniform, the employer is required to provide it. While the law doesn't say "and it needs to fit," other aspects of the law require that provisions for employees be suitable to the employee; there is no one-size-fits-all expectation for most accommodations. This is a combination of accessibility requirements and gender discrimination issues; they can't make you wear "the same thing" that the men wear, when that thing fits on the men and doesn't fit on you.

If HR seems approachable, talk to them. If they don't, find a lawyer, because this is likely a method this company has used to discourage female employees from sticking around--putting up with the movement limitations and comical appearance would make you seem less capable at the job, and get passed over for possible promotions in the long run.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 5:17 PM on May 24, 2018 [2 favorites]

DM me if you like and let me know the brand/label in the work shirt. I used to work in corporate wearables and I might be able to tell you if that shirt comes in a women's version. Many of them do nowadays. If it doesn't there are a lot of alternatives that do.

As one person upthread alluded to, ridiculously large men's shirts on a small woman can end up exposing your bra/breasts as you're having to move around, and I'd be inclined to point that out to management. You might have to get beyond the store level. This is something that *ought* to get HR's attention. Beyond unprofessional to not provide you with something that fits.
posted by randomkeystrike at 9:13 PM on May 24, 2018 [3 favorites]

« Older Book recs? Hong Kong livability, urban design...   |   Secure way to send monetary gift via text, not... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.