DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS VA REGIONAL OFFICE ROANOKE, VIRGINIA and LOCAL 537, NATIONAL FEDERATION OF FEDERAL EMPLOYEES

United States of America

BEFORE THE FEDERAL SERVICE IMPASSES PANEL

In the Matter of

DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS

VA REGIONAL OFFICE

ROANOKE, VIRGINIA

and

LOCAL 537, NATIONAL FEDERATION

OF FEDERAL EMPLOYEES

Case No. 92 FSIP 161

DECISION AND ORDER

    Local 537, National Federation of Federal Employees (Union) filed a request for assistance with the Federal Service Impasses Panel (Panel) to consider a negotiation impasse under the Federal Service Labor-Management Relations Statute (Statute), 5 U.S.C. § 7119, between it and the Department of Veterans Affairs, VA Regional Office, Roanoke, Virginia (Employer).

    After investigation of the request for assistance, the Panel ultimately determined that the dispute concerning a dress code should be resolved on the basis of a single written submission from each party, with the Panel to select the final offer of one party to resolve the impasse. Written submissions were made pursuant to this procedure, and the Panel has now considered the entire record.

BACKGROUND

    The Employer provides compensation, pension, educational, death, burial, and loan guarantee benefits to veterans. The Union represents approximately 270 General Schedule employees who are part of a nationwide, consolidated unit. These employees work as veterans benefit counselors (VBC), vocational rehabilitation specialists (VRS), field examiners, loan guarantee specialists, property management technicians, appraisers, adjudicators, receptionists, and in other support positions. The national-level master agreement will expire on September 16, 1994. Currently, there is no formal written dress code in place. Approximately 20 employees will be affected by the tie policy.

ISSUES AT IMPASSE

    The parties disagree over whether there should be a written dress code at all; and if so, whether: (1) male employees who meet with the public on a daily basis should be required to wear ties at all times; and (2) certain sweat shirts, which might be considered athletic wear, would be appropriate attire for those employees without public contact.

POSITIONS OF THE PARTIES

1. The Employer's Position

    The Employer would require male employees who meet with the public to wear ties at all times, although ties and shirt collars may be loosened when members of the public are not present.(1) Sweaters, but not "athletic" clothing, would be appropriate for employees who do not meet with the public. Exceptions would be made for snowy weather, overtime, and certain clerks who never have public contact. After 6 months, either party may reopen the dress code memorandum of understanding. The need for a written dress code has arisen because employees who once dressed appropriately for the office no longer do so. In this regard, VA regulations, 38 C.F.R. § 0.735-10, require employees to "conduct themselves both on and off duty in a manner reflecting credit upon themselves and the VA." Under § 7106 (b)(1) of the Statute, management may determine what is appropriate work attire for servicing the public.(2) The lack of complaints from the public does not mean it condones the image projected by tie-less employees and those in sweat shirts and pants.

    Since employees who meet with members of the public may provide them with the first and only impression of the VA, it is appropriate that male employees wear ties. It has been "customary" for them to do so, and is the "norm" for male employees in local private businesses as well as in local, state, and Federal Government agencies. Allowing employees to take time to put on their ties immediately before attending to members of the public, as the Union proposes, would lead to delays in service. Permitting employees to loosen their ties and shirt collars when not assisting the public is a reasonable compromise. The wearing of nondesigner, athletic sweat pants and shirts, including those with a school name printed in the front, is inappropriate in an administrative office setting. Finally, the Union has failed to show that employees would be adversely affected if required to wear ties and not allowed to wear athletic attire.

2. The Union's Position

    The Union proposes that the status quo be maintained; that is, that there be no written dress code. But, if the Panel determines that one is appropriate, it proposes that ties not necessarily be required for male employees who meet with the public; "a sweater and shirt with a sports coat" could be worn instead.(3) Also, employees who do not meet with the public would be permitted to wear sweat suits. A written dress code is not necessary to ensure that employees will dress appropriately,(4) nor has the Employer proved that problems have arisen because there is no written code. Also, the dress code it has proposed would interfere with the rights of employees and, therefore, should not be implemented without a showing of how employees' dress reflects on the agency's mission. With regard to ties, "the main issue in the case," the Employer has not shown how having male employees tieless when not meeting with veterans evidences a loss of respect for or cooperation with them. In fact, veterans who come into the Employer's facility are seldom dressed up themselves and do not expect employees to be either. It notes that some of the Employer's proposals discriminate against male employees.(5)