Disney among the employers adapting to changing appearance expectations

Posted Thursday, July 16, 2015 9:30 AM | Contributed by Jeff

Companies such as Disney have appearance policies to project a positive image, but the restrictions are prompting legal challenges from employees who don't conform to them because of their religions.

Read more from The Orlando Sentinel.

Friday, July 17, 2015 12:13 AM
Jeff's avatar

Carrie J. said:
And though it might not be a great reason, the truth is, if I'm not able to send someone from my team into a meeting with our executive leadership, or customers, or business partners, at a moment's notice to represent me and our team because of their style choices, then the value proposition of that person's skills diminishes. That's just the way it goes.

Crap, sorry for the multiple posts. This part didn't sink in at first. I get what you're saying entirely, and I've lived in that situation many times. I think that's an institutional problem that starts from the top. It may be "just the way it goes," but accepting the status quo and working in that framework is the thing that's making American business suck so much. The problem is bigger than dress codes... it's about process in general. Consultants and lecturers and such believe it's a part of the natural arc of a company's history, and in part one of the things that leads to its eventual demise. Government is of course exempt from demise, so that probably explains why it's so dysfunctional.

But maybe your point (and I'm sure I'm wrong) was that "the way it goes" means we can't do anything about it. And to Gonch's point, we can always quit. :) Changing is hard. I don't have the patience for it, but one of my former bosses at MSFT is a ninja at it... even if it takes years. I think a lot of it has to do with who sits in the C-suite, but it takes a special board or great founders to get the right people there to break out of the box and change stuff. Regardless, the article is right that it's happening anyway.


Jeff - Editor - CoasterBuzz.com - My Blog - Phrazy

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Friday, July 17, 2015 12:15 AM
ApolloAndy's avatar

LostKause said:

The Jewish guy wears the prayer beads and the Yamaka, and the punk rock guy wears the mohawk and the donut earrings. Both styles are equally obnoxious...

Wow, really?


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Calvin: "If your numbers go up, it means you're having more fun."

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Friday, July 17, 2015 12:29 AM
slithernoggin's avatar

LostKause said:

What's the difference between a guy who's "religion" is punk rock and a guy who religion is Jewish?

Punk rock: not a religion. Jewish/Catholic/Sikh: actual religion.

I fully admit to being a Damned Flaming Liberal and so am inclined to come down on the side of respecting an individual's religious beliefs (despite being a Godless Atheist).

The idea that a person who wants to celebrate their personal style in the workplace -- I'm with the company. They may be the best x, y or z ever, but if they want to show up with a mohawk in an office where everyone else wears dark blue suits with red ties.... they do indeed need to find employment elsewhere.

But the idea that a team member can't be sent into a meeting with leadership, customers or business partners because they are a person of faith wearing a turban and having a beard, I have a problem with that.


Life is something that happens when you can't get to sleep.
--Fran Lebowitz

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Friday, July 17, 2015 12:40 AM
Carrie J.'s avatar

I'm not sure if I was misunderstood since I offered the example of the team member needing to be able to represent with leadership, customers, and business partners, but I specified about that being in cases of style. I meant that of ties, piercings, tattoos, jeans, etc. I agree about the distinction of religious attire, etc. Again, I don't think the two should be collapsed, because they are different in my opinion.


"If passion drives you, let reason hold the reins." --- Benjamin Franklin

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Friday, July 17, 2015 9:25 AM
rollergator's avatar

Completely different things IMO too.

Does make me wonder oftentimes what people wear for job interviews. I know there's anti-discrimination legislation re: hiring and all....but if someone's religious beliefs require them to wear something that the employer feels violates their dress codes, and they (presumably?) wear that clothing to their job interview....just something seems really off to me.


You still have Zoidberg.... You ALL have Zoidberg! (V) (;,,;) (V)

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Friday, July 17, 2015 11:37 AM
birdhombre's avatar

Jeff said:

people seem pretty content to accept the "Walmarting" of America.

Amusingly, this article showed up in my news feed today:

Summa CEO takes jab at Walmart shoppers in discussing health system’s new dress code

When asked why the stricter employee dress code is needed, Malone joked: “Have you been to Walmart? People who left the house actually thought they looked good some days.”

Last edited by birdhombre, Friday, July 17, 2015 11:37 AM
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Friday, July 17, 2015 11:49 AM
Lord Gonchar's avatar

Jeff said:

Image and branding are about customer approval.

See, I don't think so. And the rest of your post is predicated on this idea.

Look, I give an obscene amount of disposable income to Disney (annual pass renewals next week... ouch), and I'm not losing sleep over the "Disney look" enforcement. That said, the world did not end, and attendance did not fall when they started allowing beards last year or the year before. I doubt it would if they had a guy with a "MOM" sailor tattoo on his forearm serving the gray stuff at Be Our Guest.

Exactly...because it's not about customer approval - it's about brand image. Disney's dress code doesn't exist because people won't buy otherwise, it exists because that's the image of the product they sale. It's the "you're just an equal cog in the big machine" mentality that umbrellas all that they do.

It doesn't change the customer perception (for the most part) it changes the corporate mentality.

Style and culture are not the same thing.

Style is not culture. But style is a part of culture.

As is the case for most IT shops, we're already a very international bunch (with Sikhs and Muslims, no less), and I'm funny T-shirt guy. It has no bearing on cultural fit.

Because the "wear whatever you like" is the style of the culture.

If the corporate style were suits and ties, suddenly funny T-shirt guy doesn't fit in with the culture of the workplace.


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Friday, July 17, 2015 11:51 AM
LostKause's avatar

I'm kind of playing devil's advocate in my comparison to the punk rock guy and the Jewish guy. It has always been something I've wondered about. What if tattoos were not allowed, but someone had a tattoo of Jesus on display on their arm because it show how devoted they were to their religion? What if unusual hairstyles were not allowed, but a guy likes to have a cross shaved into the side of his head every time he gets a haircut? That's how they worship. It's their religious belief. Should it be tolerated?

It reminds me of the newly-formed Church of Cannibals. I think it consists of one member, and he gets a tax break. The government recognizes it as a religion even though pot is illegal.

I'm kind of slightly trolling because I actually understand and agree with why certain dress codes are implemented. Because I have often wondered where the line is, it's interesting to see what other people's reaction is to the idea.


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Friday, July 17, 2015 12:06 PM
Lord Gonchar's avatar

rollergator said:

Does make me wonder oftentimes what people wear for job interviews. I know there's anti-discrimination legislation re: hiring and all....but if someone's religious beliefs require them to wear something that the employer feels violates their dress codes, and they (presumably?) wear that clothing to their job interview....just something seems really off to me.

That's exactly what I wondered in the original story about Disney and this Sikh employee:

"If there's any fault here, I wonder why they hired the guy given his lack of aherence to the "Disney Look" - I wonder what all the details are."

No one elaborated so it got dropped, but I'm thinking like you, Gator. What did they guy wear to the interview and what was said?

1. If he wore something different and said nothing when given the Disney Handbook, but bitched once given the job - then he's wrong.

2. If wore his standard issue religious garb then:

A. Did Disney say it would be a problem and he agreed not to, but did dress that way and later sued.

C. Did Disney mention it was an issue but that they'd make special accomodations with his route, but later he sued.

D. Did Disney just hire the guy, hand him the standard issue employee handbook, and he showed up in violation of the dress code and then Disney was all "WTF!?" and he's like, "Religion. LOL!" and then they modified his route as to allow him to keep his job, but later he sued.

E. Disney hired the guy, made no mention of the dress code ever, then when he showed up in violation, modified his route so that he could retain employment, but later he sued.

F. Disney made no mention of the dress code, modified his route and when questioned about it were like FU Sikh-boy we don't take kindly to your types in these here parts! And then he sued.

Because I wonder the same thing. What were the terms of him being hired. I don't think we know all of the info. And not matter how many scenarios I try to play out in my head, less seem to put Disney at fault...however the ones that do are bafflingly unlogical.

------------------------

As far as the personal dress vs religious belief thing - let's look at it this way:

If I wear a turban and long beard for religious reasons you have to hire me, but if I do so for equally personal, but not religious, reasons then you don't.

I don't get it. I feel religion and adherence to it's customs is a choice the same as any other personal choice that might put me at conflict with an employer.


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Friday, July 17, 2015 12:07 PM
Carrie J.'s avatar

LostKause said:

It reminds me of the newly-formed Church of Cannibals. I think it consists of one member, and he gets a tax break.

Yeah, that poor church. No matter how much recruitment it does, it always winds up with only one member left. ;-)


"If passion drives you, let reason hold the reins." --- Benjamin Franklin

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Friday, July 17, 2015 12:24 PM
Carrie J.'s avatar

Lord Gonchar said:

As far as the personal dress vs religious belief thing - let's look at it this way:

If I wear a turban and long beard for religious reasons you have to hire me, but if I do so for equally personal, but not religious, reasons then you don't.

I don't get it. I feel religion and adherence to it's customs is a choice the same as any other personal choice that might put me at conflict with an employer.

The government has decided that religious beliefs (and associated choices) are protected and personal ones aren't.

This is a bit far fetched, but I think of it this way... if I just enjoy riding in a wheelchair but am otherwise able-bodied, I don't get the same accommodations that someone whose only option is being in a wheelchair gets. This is where things usually go haywire in terms of varying perspectives, but there are many people who don't believe they have another option when it comes to practicing their religion. It's not just a personal choice, but one driven from faith and higher powers.


"If passion drives you, let reason hold the reins." --- Benjamin Franklin

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Friday, July 17, 2015 1:09 PM
Jeff's avatar

Lord Gonchar said:
Disney's dress code doesn't exist because people won't buy otherwise, it exists because that's the image of the product they sale.

That doesn't even make sense. You've been going on about how it's just business, but if it's not to sell, why bother? If image isn't a selling point of the product, what is it for?

birdhombre said:
Amusingly, this article showed up in my news feed today:

Summa CEO takes jab at Walmart shoppers in discussing health system’s new dress code

"In his previous role at a health system in Detroit, Malone said, he enforced a similar policy and took pictures of violators to show at new employee orientations before sending them home to change.

The policy, which affects all 9,000 Summa employees, has drawn some criticism, particularly for a requirement that workers wear pantyhose or tights with skirts and dresses."

Are we to keep the women answering phones and at reception desks as well? What year is this?


Jeff - Editor - CoasterBuzz.com - My Blog - Phrazy

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Friday, July 17, 2015 1:44 PM

I think dress for religious perposes and dress for personal preferences are different. There are women in my extended family who believe in wearing only ankle length skirts, nothing sleeveless and hair down to their butts or however long it naturally grows. They believe they are called by God to dress "holy" and unless there is a safety concern over the skirt then they should be accomadated in some way. If the skirt is a genuine safety issue though then they just need to choose a different job. I have a personal preference for jeans and T-shirts. Some of the buildings I work at within my school district have strict dress codes of no jeans. Concert T-shirts and graphic Tees are pretty much a no no district wide escept in certain classrooms. When I work there they have no obligation to accomadate my preference for all things denim and comfy. I just have to wear something else more professional and I'm cool with that. It was my choice when I went into education to deal with the expectation that I would be expected to dress in a certain manner.

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Friday, July 17, 2015 1:56 PM
Lord Gonchar's avatar

Jeff said:

That doesn't even make sense. You've been going on about how it's just business, but if it's not to sell, why bother? If image isn't a selling point of the product, what is it for?

Branding, consistency, corporate "all on the same page" mentality, familiarity, etc. It's why dress codes still exist at companies outside of public view.

It's just not as pragmatic as you want it to be.

Carrie J. said:

The government has decided that religious beliefs (and associated choices) are protected and personal ones aren't.

This is a bit far fetched, but I think of it this way... if I just enjoy riding in a wheelchair but am otherwise able-bodied, I don't get the same accommodations that someone whose only option is being in a wheelchair gets. This is where things usually go haywire in terms of varying perspectives, but there are many people who don't believe they have another option when it comes to practicing their religion. It's not just a personal choice, but one driven from faith and higher powers.

No, I get it. I'm just taking the opportunity to jump on my soapbox.

I get it. I disagree, but I get it.

The problem is that the wheelchair example is tangible to a large degree. (Do you need this or not?)

The personal choice vs religion thing is much more theoretical and philosophical. You can't quanitfy that, so you make a judgement call. It's just funny and outdated to me.

Two people identical in appearance can be treated differently based on their appearance because they have different reasons for appearing that way. Read that again.

What if I have a legitimate quantifiable issue that's not religion based? Like a mental health issue or something?

Yes, things go haywire in that weird grey nether-region. I suspect (and this is moving to a new tangent) that in trying to quantify it to such a degree we end up creating more issues - almost inconveniencing everyone to a greater degree for the good of the few. (which seems to be a prevalent mentality anymore).

Seems easier to say, "This is how we operate. If it doesn't work for you, then best of luck elsewhere." Which leads to the idea that I just don't understand (admittedly) of insisting I work somewhere that doesn't meet my same sensibilities - to the point of forcing them to accept me. I just don't get what drives someone to force a company...

...nevermind, I'm straying pretty far from the core discussion. Or maybe not. What drives someone to force a company to hire them with having to comply? I think you said it a while back...entitlement.

In summary, I get dress codes. I get personal decision. I don't buy religion being any less a personal decision than anything else, but understand that the distinction has been made. I don't get insisting on being hired by a company that doesn't operate on the same level as your personal sensibility (religious or otherwise).

In the end, I'd be more inclined to fight the idea that my personal decision to look how I do is any less important than your decision to follow a certain religion's standards than I would to fight for my right to hold a job regardless of how I look.


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Friday, July 17, 2015 5:11 PM
ApolloAndy's avatar

You say entitlement, I say justice. In a world where there is no such legal protection, it's basically trivial for a company to decide it doesn't want to hire Muslims (of certains sects) or Jews (of certain sects). If I am such a person, I don't necessarily want to work there (assuming other non-prejudiced job opportunities exist, which isn't obviously the case) but I don't want the compny to have the right to not hire me based on my religion.

Last edited by ApolloAndy, Friday, July 17, 2015 5:21 PM

Hobbes: "What's the point of attaching a number to everything you do?"
Calvin: "If your numbers go up, it means you're having more fun."

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Saturday, July 18, 2015 6:46 PM
sirloindude's avatar

It wouldn't be a matter of them denying you employment because of religion. It would be them denying you employment because you don't fit the image they're trying to project.

Now, that sounds more insensitive than I want it to, so let me explain.

I'm a little more lenient toward casual dress in back-office environments. You aren't customer-contact (at least not visually), so if you have some sort of religious wardrobe, knock yourself out.

Honestly, most customer-contact jobs could accommodate religious garb anyway without issue. However, things get tricky in situations such as Disney where you have all these themed areas and you need your employees to look a certain way to maintain that theme. Let them rock wild hairstyles, tattoos, or religious items (basically, anything that contrasts with the theme of that area) and suddenly this image/theme you're trying to create falls apart. Call the guests shallow, culturally insensitive, or whatever, but they expect a certain image to be portrayed based on the location or nature of the experience, and based on various periods in history, some of the stuff that flies today wasn't a part of those time periods or whatever.

However, that all might be detracting from the real argument, which is this: if you want to work somewhere, whether the rules of that place are woefully antiquated or not, the obligation is on you to comply with their image. It is not their responsibility to comply with yours.

Last edited by sirloindude, Saturday, July 18, 2015 6:48 PM

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Saturday, July 18, 2015 7:05 PM
slithernoggin's avatar

... I have trouble with the idea of equating wild hair styles with accepted and recognized items that have religious significance.

I have no issue with complying with the rules of a company; if you don't like the rules, don't work there. But corporate rules shouldn't trump essential liberties.


Life is something that happens when you can't get to sleep.
--Fran Lebowitz

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Saturday, July 18, 2015 10:08 PM
ApolloAndy's avatar

I get the weirdness here. I don't know what to do with someone whose religion requires them to wear a full length skirt who wants to play Ariel or Jasmine. But how do you draw a line between that, which is pretty legitimate, and "We require our front line employees to have uncovered heads because we think it looks professional (and we secretly hate conservative Muslims and Jews)"?

The law exists to prevent the latter, so (depending on the ruling of a judge) it IS their responsibility to comply with yours.

Last edited by ApolloAndy, Saturday, July 18, 2015 10:10 PM

Hobbes: "What's the point of attaching a number to everything you do?"
Calvin: "If your numbers go up, it means you're having more fun."

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Saturday, July 18, 2015 10:47 PM

I would agree. But something sirloindude said makes me stop and think.

The amusement business is show business, particularly at a place like Disney which strives to be as immersive as possible. I'm currently cast in a play as an elderly (no comments, please, none of yous) wealthy Italian gentleman. It's Molière, a period piece. My employer there could care less what I wear or what I do while off duty, but when on stage (as a cast member- see what I did there?) I'm expected to dress the part, no exceptions.

Having said that I recall looking at the housekeeping staff at Grand Floridian. Most were female, many older, and many Latina. Did I believe for a second that these were Victorian ladies? No, of course not. But I also knew that they were subject to periodic inspections and their hair, makeup, nails, and costumes were looked at to make sure there was conformity to the image prescribed by the location. Whatever their culture dictates can resume the minute they get in the car to go home.

So the pentecostal woman will never be cast as Jasmine, no matter how deserved she feels. We know that because she will refuse to conform to the costume. In the case of a housekeeper, maybe on my next visit I'll see a muslim woman with an appropriate head cover dressed from the neck down as a Victorian lady. And that's what makes Disney's adaptive move here great. She can be placed somewhere on the front line and not be relegated to behind the scenes clerical or telephone work. The convention established by the theme park will alter, but no customer who's the least bit enlightened should complain.

As for what's going on in y'all's corporate offices, I don't know, and that's a tough one. I see both sides. I like the idea of "free to be you and me", but I also see where and why business image comes first at many companies. There has to be (and I'm sure there is in many places) where the desired image and the person's individuality can meet somewhere in the middle.

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Sunday, July 19, 2015 12:07 AM
Lord Gonchar's avatar

ApolloAndy said:

But how do you draw a line between that, which is pretty legitimate, and "We require our front line employees to have uncovered heads because we think it looks professional (and we secretly hate conservative Muslims and Jews)"?

The law exists to prevent the latter, so (depending on the ruling of a judge) it IS their responsibility to comply with yours.

You can't. Flat out.

Even if I'm the most hateful bigoted horrible person in the world and I wish you death based on your religious choice...

...well, I didn't hire you because other applicants were more qualified or a better fit or whatever vague answer I feel like giving.

And what we're all getting at here in the last few posts is the facetious "I wish I were an NBA player" thing. Hell, I'm 5' 7" and I can barely dribble, but you have to hire me because I feel discriminated against. At some point you simply don't meet the qualifications of the job...and I have no problem with appearance being one of those qualifications. In fact - it should be.

And in the case of religious garb not meeting dress codes, well that's a qualification you don't have...same way I can't play ball at a pro level or you're not going to get hired as an accountant if you can't add or as a cop if guns frighten you or whatever. Technically, you're not being passed over because of your religion. You're being passed over for not meeting the necessary qualifications...in this case, the dress code.

Like I've said, I don't see the distinction between personal choice and religious dictation, but even if I give in and say the religious thing is not a choice...well, then neither are the genetics and skills I was born with that make me ineligible to be the starting center for Golden State. Unfortunately, I don't meet the qualification to do so. Unfortunately, your look falls outside the qualification for this job.

RCMAC said:

I see both sides. I like the idea of "free to be you and me", but I also see where and why business image comes first at many companies. There has to be (and I'm sure there is in many places) where the desired image and the person's individuality can meet somewhere in the middle.

Totally. And that middle ground exists were you don't try to legislate yourself into a job. We're all free to be ourselves and we're all free to seek employment where we'd like. It doesn't mean the two have to jive. Neither side owes the other anything. You don't have to change for an employer...look elsewhere if they're sensibilities don't mesh with yours. Same thing the other way - the employer shouldn't have to change for you if their sensibilites differ from yours. It's ok to be different and for those differences to restrict relationships - especially business relationships.

I don't get why it has to be harder than that.


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