Springfield worker bucks dress code Shorts-wearer may be suspended

July 02, 1993|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Staff Writer

Dave Wilmouth can take the heat, if he is dressed to beat it.

A direct-care worker at Springfield Hospital Center, Mr. Wilmouth is in danger of being suspended for wearing shorts on the job.

No central air conditioning cools the McKeldin Building, where Mr. Wilmouth works in one of three wards. The brick structure, which houses about 70 patients, retains heat in the summer, he said. The staff and patients swelter in the halls and hospital rooms. Often, the only relief is outdoors.

"I took a pocket thermostat to work with me Sunday," said Mr. Wilmouth, 24, of Sykesville. "It read 96 degrees in the employees' break room where we eat. To get cool, we had to go outside."

The only ventilation in the shower room, where he assists patients, is a single 4-inch exhaust fan. The temperature there hovers around 100 degrees, he said.

Mr. Wilmouth, who has worked at the center in Sykesville for 18 months, said he is willing to deal with the heat if he is allowed to dress for it. But he and his supervisors disagree on that issue. Men in Bermuda shorts violate the center's dress code.

"Why can't I dress coolly? Morale is so much better when we are comfortably dressed," Mr. Wilmouth said.

Safety is another factor: shorts afford the wearer more agility, he said.

A few weeks ago, a patient knocked Mr. Wilmouth down.

"I was hot and sweaty in heavy jeans," he said. "I couldn't move as quickly. I landed on my shoulder and the patient landed on me."

Mr. Wilmouth came out of the brief scuffle with contusions, a dislocated shoulder and nine days off on sick leave.

Mr. Wilmouth arrived at work Saturday in shorts and a T-shirt in defiance of the dress code, which specifies "street clothes" for workers.

"For men, that means ankle-length trousers," he said. "I didn't wear raggy cut-offs. I wore neat, hemmed shorts, which were three inches below my knees."

His supervisor showed him the dress code and reported him to the director of nursing. The same day, Mr. Wilmouth received a letter stating he was not in compliance with the dress code. Any further failure to comply with that policy would result in suspension, the letter said.

Mr. Wilmouth said the policy discriminates against male employees.

"Women can wear loose-fitting shorts, stirrup pants and tank tops," he said.

He is not asking for women's dress privileges to be revoked. He wants men to be afforded the same privileges.

A female co-worker, who did not want to be identified out of fear of reprisal, agreed with Mr. Wilmouth.

In the hot weather, most women wear "skorts," a loose-fitting cross between skirts and shorts, she said.

"If women can wear that, men should be able to wear baggy shorts," she said.

Mr. Wilmouth said he expects repercussions from his supervisors for making his story public. Management could transfer him to another building at the center, he said.

Most transfer letters, however, were sent out before June 1 said his co-worker.

"If they transfer him now, they are doing it because they are angry," she said.

Mr. Wilmouth said he has a good working relationship with the McKeldin patients and would like to continue working there.

Every day he has worked this week, management has called his supervisor to see what he is wearing, he said. Mr. Wilmouth said he feels the staff is singling him out.

Tori Leonard, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, said the dress code exists for reasons of professionalism and safety.

"Springfield makes the rules and policies for each of its departments," she said. "This issue has never come to our attention before."

She said employees can take their complaints to Springfield's Employees Committee.

Mr. Wilmouth said by the time that committee takes action, frost could be on the ground.

"They [committee members] won't meet again until July 15, and it would take at least a month for them to make a decision and get a memo together," he said.

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