By Bailey Penrose, Employer Services Account Manager
You can see the bottom of my face now. I’m vaccinated, and when the CDC came out with their updated guidance on masks earlier in May, I rubber banded the mask I was wearing off my face so fast it hit a wall. I still don the mask to visit stores or when around new people or even upon request, but it seems like we soon may be headed towards the mask horizon.
However, during this past year I also noticed there are some things I enjoyed about wearing a mask. Early on, I had splurged on some masks I really liked, with the idea that if they were fun and comfortable I wouldn’t mind wearing them as much. It made me happy that there was some wearable art on my face, that behind the funky pattern I didn’t have to monitor my expression, and that my face was warm in the winter months. I’m going to kind of miss those things.
The thing about masks, in connection with COVID-19 and beyond, is that we’re probably still going to be seeing them for the foreseeable future. People may decide to wear them if they’re out and about, while fighting a cold, or even just choose to wear them as an accessory. As mask wearing has become generally accepted on a global scale, I don’t imagine there will be a lot of pushback or vitriolic demands that someone take them off. It will become a voluntary item that people choose to wear or not wear.
This issue has also made me think a lot about work dress norms. Specifically, dress norms or policies in relation to team members who may choose to wear items of clothing or jewelry due to sincerely held religious beliefs. Now, I am in no way comparing a mask, which has been predominately utilitarian in nature, to religious garb, which is a personal choice and deeply felt. I think however, the newly universal experience wearing or not wearing an item of clothing (a mask) garnered a degree of attention and comment at work and abroad that not everyone had experienced before. With this new shared experience in mind, why not take second to review your office dress code?
For workplaces, a flexible dress code that hits the sweet spot of professional attire while being able to accommodate for a reasonable level of personal expression, including religious accommodation, can help employers on several levels. From a legal perspective, religious accommodation is protected by law under Title VII. From a recruiting and retention perspective, allowing for and protecting reasonable personal expression in the workplace will support diversity initiatives, create a more inclusive environment for team members, and attract applicants.
Please consider some of the examples below: