Human Resources News & Insights

Was relaxing dress code a morale booster or just a bad idea?

How many times have you had to change your company’s dress code to address situations that no one previously thought of? Next question: Does your company’s dress code cover hats?

The borough of Littlestown, PA, recently told a school crossing guard he could no longer where his signature silly hats on the job because they were unprofessional and a distraction to drivers. They told him to wear his standard-issue crossing guard hat instead.

Children called Larry Douthwaite “Hat Man.” His collection includes a 2-foot-tall stovepipe hat, a pharaoh-style covering and one that looks like he has a jet airplane sitting on top of his head.

Douthwaite told WGAL-TV that he wore the hats for the kids at first. But then he noticed the hats helped him be safe because people were more likely to notice him.

After he started wearing his crossing guard hat every day, it didn’t take long for people in the community to notice that his funny hats were gone.

People wanted Douthwaite’s fun hats back. Public support for him was huge. WGAL ran a survey, and 96% said he should be able to wear the fun hats.

“I think they are tired of having fun things sucked out of their life, and I think the reaction mushroomed because of that,” said Douthwaite.

Happy ending

When citizens speak up in one voice about an issue, politicians often listen.

The Littlestown Borough Council voted unanimously to allow Douthwaite to continue wearing his hats.

How did Douthwaite celebrate his victory? By wearing his pharaoh hat on the job the day after the borough council vote.

So, here are some questions regarding this story:

  • Should Douthwaite be allowed to wear the silly hats? Do you think they’d be a help or hindrance for a school crossing guard?
  • Have you ever had a special dress-up day at work to help improve morale? Maybe Hawaiian shirt day?
  • In these tough economic times, should HR allow some rules, such as dress code, to be bent a little bit if it’ll improve morale?

Let us know your thoughts via the Comments Box below.

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  • JVN

    I think Mr. Douthwaite hit the nail on the head when he said that people are tired of having fun things sucked out of their lives. These are tough, and often depressing, times. If the children were enjoying the hats and no drivers or residents were complaining (and it doesn’t sound like they were), then I don’t see why they told him to quit wearing the hats in the first place.

  • Judy

    Why should a crossing guard have to look “professional”?

  • Dee

    I don’t understand why the burrow would raise an issue with a crossing gard DISTRACTING the drivers; silly me I thought getting the attention of the drivers is exactly what a crossing guard is suppose to do…right?? The children are probably safer in the street because everyone is slowing down to see what in the world is on the guard’s head. Littlestown doesn’t sound like a town I want to visit.

  • Machelle

    Everyone thinks they need to control what everyone else is doing in today’s society. Life is to short.

  • Jack Montgomery

    Mr. Larry Douthwaite was innovative and ahead of his time. A school crossing guard not only needs the attention of the children crossing the street but the driver of a car or truck passing the school. I would feel my grandchildren would be much safer crossing Mr. Douthwaite Street than any I have seen lately.

  • NV

    I I see no problem with a crossing guard having a funky hat on but you would be surprised what some people feel is acceptable on casual Friday. I had one 40 yr old where a skirt that was meant for a 15 yr whose parents doesn’t monitor what she wears. She of course chose to wear it with heals and a shirt that didn’t hit the 12 inches of material that made up the skirt. Every Spring I have to remind people that if you can wear it to clean your garage, to the gym or to the bar to pick up men you shouldn’t be wearing it to work.

    Do you have to spell out everything to employees? Yes! Should they allow him to wear his hats as long as they don’t obstruct his view? Yes! Have some fun but keep in mind where you are and what your job is.

  • jn

    Sometimes we don’t appreciate something until it’s taken away…………so whoever brought up the issue that he wasn’t wearing the “standard” uniform items has the opportunity to view the issue in a different light and understand the other aspects that they weren’t aware of. Usually failing to understand the other side of an issue is what starts issues and creative discussions in an HR persons world. We run a manufacturing plant, but when it comes to Halloween many of our employees take on different roles and it’s okay, as long as they follow the safety rules with what they choose to wear. And for a day, we focus on something besides the hum drum of repeatable daily life.

  • Ed

    Simply amend the policy to allow other hats that are not explicit or offensive and are appropriate around children.

  • Cathy

    Hurray for Mr. Douthwaite.
    Every job I have ever had, had some type of morale booster for the employees, whether it was pot luck lunch day or “casual Fridays”. We spend too much of our time on the job (at least a third of each day) to not have something relaxed, enjoyable or sometimes downright silly. There’s nothing wrong with not taking oneself too seriously in the workplace occasionally, as long as it is at the appropriate time and setting.
    As to the borough of Littlestown, PA and groups like them, I say, “Lighten up”.

  • JVN

    Judy – I suspect they mean “professional” in the broader sense you often see in appearance policies, meaning really just clean, neat, tidy and appropriate to the job the individual is performing.

    When I was HR manager for a distribution center, we had the same wording in our policy. What it really boiled down to was clean clothing, no major holes/rips/tears and wearing the company uniform shirt. The company certainly didn’t expect “professional” attire along the lines of a banker, trial lawyer, etc.

  • TG

    Jeans Day, Hawaiian shirt day, pot luck lunches and BBQs are no or little cost but a huge payoff. If you can not have fun at work, then it’s just a JOB (just over broke).

  • Ed

    Machelle –

    I hope you see the need for dress codes – entities need to protect themselves from lawsuits and that is one easy way to do that.

  • As for the crossing guard … putting some fun into the lives of our children is great. I agree, they should be regulated to non-offensive hats, but it sounds like Mr. Douthwaite is acting appropriately around the children! As for office attire, I support going more casual but do believe that dressing appropriately, and professionally, for your job is very important. The low-cut, cleavage exposing tops and low-riding pants are great for home or social events, but NOT appropriate for office wear, even on casual Fridays! It’s embarrassing to me to be in a sales meeting with “the boss” sitting across from one of the employees exposing too much. Though, it’s normally a younger set, these employees are excellent at their jobs and you would expect them to remember “where they are” and who is going to be sitting across from them at these meetings.

  • Kim

    More power to him! Is wearing a hat become a crime recently? Why do others wish to sqelch someone else’s individuality and what they wear each day? Isn’t that a personal choice and if it is not harming anyone, then why should anyone care? There are bigger issues to tackle these days then worrying about what hat someone is wearing. It is ridiculous and people need to focus their attention on important issues instead of zeroing in on things that are totally irrelevant. People need to get a life! Driver’s can talk endlessly on their cell phones while driving and not pay attention to what is going on and cause accidents – and people are worried that a hat will cause a distraction. Gimmie a break! This society is filled with nothing but idiots anymore.

  • Paige

    Cathy – I agree!

  • Dawn

    The crossing guard is still a professional with a very important job of protecting our children. Just one accident because some driver was distracted would be tragic. Wearing the complete uniform including the crossing guard hat shows respect for the crossing guard and respect to the parents, the children and the community. Even the crossing guard is a mentor for our children.

  • Don

    We live in a Nannygate society and it’s getting worse by the day!

  • Good for the people of that community-in these dark economic times we all need something to make us smile. Last Sept 19 one of our employees notice a few days before that the 19th was National ‘Talk Like a Pirate’ day. Nothing at all to do with our company, mission etc-but we all dressed up, talked like pirates (to each other mostly) and ate at the local fish eatery. Created a sense of team cohesiveness and we all laughed a lot! Oh, and looked quite silly! Who would ever have known it was being celebrated on college campuses nationwide???

  • Tim

    It is Friday in a professional CPA firm and it is Hawaiian shirt day! No Jeans, No tennis shoes. We are still meeting with clients. Have fun but remember who you are and what image you want your firm to display.

  • Ed

    Kim – What if he wore a hat with Breasts on the hat that said I love em large? There has to be policies that allow for control – and in this case – all was appropraite the policy should allow for that.

    Don – I agree with you about the Nanny society it will get worse for the next four years at the minimum.

  • We had a similar situation in our community. A female crossing guard who danced as she directed the crossing. Very rythmic, swaying motions that seemed totally in reason.

    Two things happened, first traffic increased just to see the show and, second one day a distracted driver ran over the crossing guard and two kids.

  • Ed

    Tommy – Was the driver eating, applying make-up, texting or talking on a cell-phone ot all of the above?

    You cannot run over the item that distracts you – that does not make sense.

  • Patty

    I say the driver’s that were too “distracted” by the hats need to have their license taken away!

  • Kristy

    I heard this story on NPR last week – actually the reason he was asked not to wear the hats is that supossedly some driver (who said he was distratced by the hat) swerved and almost casued an accident. I think the school officials were justly trying to protect safety and may have just overreacted. After all – as has been pointed out – drivers are disctratced by a number of things nowadays. If they are not paying attention to their driving it’s not the crossing guard’s fault.

    We need to allow some fun on the job and suspect that this crossing guard is a bright spot in the day for the kids and public. We do dress down days, wear green for St. Patricks, football jerseys before the Super Bowl, costumes at Halloween and all that stuff. Employees love it – and the most of the public does too.

  • MSQ

    To JN, I would like permission to borrow the quote about the garage and the bar to use with my employees. May I please?

  • MSQ

    Sorry, it was NV that I wanted the permission to quote.


  • Mrs.Moore

    I think he had a valid reason for wearing the hats. The biggest part of his job is to get the children across the street safely. How could someone not notice a ridiculous hat. My guess is that some unhappy sole complained and usually that’s all it takes. Kuddos to him and the community for fighting it.

  • Mrs.Moore

    I think he had a valid reason for wearing the hats. The biggest part of his job is to get the children across the street safely. How could someone not notice a ridiculous hat? My guess is that some unhappy sole complained and usually that’s all it takes. Kuddos to him and the community for fighting it.

  • Due to the nature of our business, alcohol and substance abuse rehab, most of our employees are very casual everyday. But, occasionally, we will have a favorite baseball, football or basketball team Friday and employees will wear jerseys from their favorite teams. It does foster more of a team environment in a business that requires teamwork.

    As for the crossing guard, I’m for anything that gets the drivers attention to ensure safe passage of our childran when crossing a busy boulevard.

  • kevin

    I think Dwight from “The Office” was in charge of the crossing guards!

  • Maria Joseph

    This is just silly…I mean, the hats are not offensive in any way, plus this guy works as a crossing guard with children who obviously enjoy the hats. Agree with Frances James…the hats certainly call attention to the location of the guard and children, so technically, it is a safety improvement.

    I personally like the pharoah hat the best!

  • Dorothy O’Brien

    The hat was not hurting the company it was bringing joy the the children and people out driving. It takes one person to bring you down so don’t you think this person could make someone smile and have a better day. I think so. Let people have some fun life is to serious. Why do people have to make a big deal about something so small.

  • Kim B

    We do Hawaiian shirt days on Fridays in the summer, jeans day on Fridays all year long, a big employee potluck at the holidays, chili cook-off day in January, crockpot day in February, supply chocolate/candy for all the major candy holidays like Halloween & Valentine’s Day, employees bring in donuts on their birthdays, and from what I can tell a sense of humor is allowed at all times. AND we operate a professional and profitable business. Why not?

  • Mary Stewart

    I hadn’t really given it much thought, but now that you mention it, I think it’s a good idea to step out of the box occasionally regarding dress code. I like the idea of a Hawaiian shirt day (or here in South Florida it could be a ‘guayabera” shirt day! Anything to boost employee morale and create an atmosphere of camaraderie is worth a try.

  • Jorge R.

    Iteresting how all points of view have their own weight & for the most very respectable, each one sees one side of a coin & yet it is not the whole coin, with a lot of value in every one of the opinions & judgements.

    The question in my mind is: If a uniformed crossing guard ( for that matter a uniformed anything, public servant) should be allowed to divert from an established rule or regulatory requirement, previously established by legally & ethically founded authority.

    a) the answer is up for debate .!

    However figure that what makes USA survive as a nation is equality under law, & by law mean not only the Federal labor law, or the, carta magna, Penal code , or the income tax law or any other , but all duly & rightfully established laws & regulations.

    Should your pastor be allowed to dress up as Elvis Presley on Sunday morning services because this way will make the service more attractive to baby boomers ? should the USA air force allow aircraft pilots to wear Ninja suits, or any other uniformed member of a public service unit wear appareil which makes them stand out of the uniform?

    b) another one for debate.

    I say a monk’s habit does not make him a monk, but it surely gives him character.

    If the crosing guard found his attire singled him out & help do his job better, then finding out the root cause of attention attracting should be a priority for his supervisor & the whole force should focus on solving the attention drawing problem within the boundaries of thes “order” (crossing guards). and only after such an experience & conclusions; then maybe the institution of whimsical head wear for crossing officers may be a standard issue for them. I beleive I would like the Pharoah’s hat myself.

  • SSN

    I would have to agree with the majority on this one. I think that he is accomplishing a couple of things, he is getting the attention of driver’s, which is the most important aspect of a crossing guard, and he is making it fun for the kids and even the adults. I know if I picked my kids from school one day and saw the crossing guard wearing a funny hat, after a few times of seeing it, I myself would probably be excited to see what kind of hat he will have next. Its all in fun.. people really need to learn how to pick their battles.

  • Chris C

    As long a sthe hast don’t obstruct view, what’s the problem? I guess the town name says it all.

  • Ed

    Town name means nothing or thousands of single people would move to Intercourse PA.

  • JVN

    Good one, Ed! Shoot – there are probably married people who would do the same…

  • LM in CA

    At former employer, I was constantly having to remind the employees (most in their 20s) about what was and was not appropriate office attire. When the CEO or other execs were coming into town, we would send out an email telling people to dress up. One year for Halloween I decided to be the “inappropriate employee” – basically breaking all the rules (spaghetti strap bustier, sweat pants, flip-flops, hat with obnoxious saying, sealed beer bottle on my desk, “stolen” lunches laying around my office, excessive perfume, etc) I was poking fun at myself for constantly having to remind people of things (yes people’s lunches would disappear) but I got the point across in a humorous way what was not appropriate attire/behavior. I won the prize for most original costume! The day after I left the company, one of my co-workers showed up in shorts and another one commented to him that just because I was gone didn’t mean the dress code has gone with me!

  • Justhere

    I had a female HR manager who thought she was a diva and took business casual and jeans Friday to a new level. She would come to work with very low-cut blouses, skirts so short she could’nt pick up anything dropped, and very tight jeans on Fridays. The male employees would think of every excuse imaginable to come to her office. Do you really think other employees followed the company’s dress code?

  • HR Coordinator

    Wow Ed, calm down! I’m sure the gentlemen knew he was working around small children and would know better than to wear a hat that has “boobs” on it. It seems to me that we have to correct most of the younger kids, fresh out of high school to not wear these kind of disrespectful items. You know…the low hanging jeans with holes in them or the girls with the VERY low cut shirts or high skirts.
    And who it to say that his hats were not professional in his job, he was working with small children and they were goofy, silly hats that made the kids happy. Even us adults tend to have a smile creep across our face when we see an adult acting or wearing sometime goofy like that…sometimes it’s good to be a kid again…clean cut kid, but a kid again.

  • Ed

    HR Coordinator –

    Read all of my comments and see that I am calm. I was responding to a post that there should be no entity making any judgement, nor imposing any type of dress code or policy regarding this person.

  • Michelle

    We have a female crossing guard that I drive by each day – same thing – big funny hats, Mickey Mouse Gloves – and around Halloween – full on costumes. She waves to all the drivers & has a consistent positive attitude.

  • HR Coordinator

    Sorry Ed, I went back and read all of your comments (sometimes there’s to many comments on these things to read all) :>

  • Ed

    No problem – there are too many posts on many of these.

  • Starinin

    It seems every time I see alot of people happy or smiling I see atleast a couple of people determined to destroy it. It does take alot of concentration to watch out for children on the street and TALK ON THE CELL PHONE!!! I think drawing attention to himself is a very smart and caring thing to do. They should put “Cat in the Hat” hats on all crossing guards.

  • Ed

    I was going to agree with you – and still sort of do.

    However, a thought just ocured to me regarding the need for crossing guards to be respected by both the children and drivers. Nice line for them to walk. The decay of respect that parents have for teachers and other authority figures is seen by and therefore learned by children.

    As long as the level of respect is maintained I say let crossing guards where anything that is respectable and not offnesive (to more than two people.)

  • Lori

    Most crossing guards are voluntary. If he is a volunteer, where do they even think they have the right to tell him what to wear? He is doing a service AND having fun! People in charge need to loosen up just a little.

  • R. B.

    We dress up for Halloween (on a voluntary basis…not required) and when we have our annual Chili Cook-off, the competing teams decorate their booth and dress up to support their theme. I think things like this are healthy, fun and help employees to feel good about their place of employment. Now if someone dressed in a way that was provocative or totally inappropriate in some way (explicit or derogatory t-shirt, bra exposed, etc.), we would have to step in. Otherwise, as long as the safety standards aren’t being violated, it’s great fun.

    I think to some extent the dress code has to be realistic for the position. We wouldn’t require a machinist to adhere to our business casual dress code. We do require they wear clean jeans (or knee-length shorts in the summer) that aren’t exposing underwear or skin. And machinists can’t wear jewelry because of the safety hazard while long hair must be tied back, but we don’t have that same requirement for those who don’t work around heavy machinery / equipment. Sounds like the position wasn’t really taken into consideration here initially. If a little common sense had been applied to begin with, it wouldn’t have become such a huge issue. I’m glad they let him wear his hats when all was said and done because I do think they would be a good way to get driver’s attention and to connect with the kids. We could use a few more imaginative, lighthearted and creative people like this gentleman. Keep us from taking ourselves so darn seriously all the time!