Too sexy for tax: ATO staff sent home for “revealing” and “immodest” clothing

The Australian Tax Office has been in the news this week – but not for anything to do with the budget or National Commission of Audit.

Fairfax reports the government revenue collector is cracking down on its employees dressing inappropriately for work, with staff cautioned for wearing “revealing” or “immodest” outfits, as well as items deemed too casual for the workplace such as board shorts and thongs.

According to Fairfax, Tax Commissioner Chris Jordan has personally ordered staff at the ATO’s Sydney CBD office to go home and change into different outfits, while staff in Newcastle, NSW, have been told by their managers they will be sent home if their appearance does not improve.

The modesty campaign follows a memo sent to employees earlier this year from ATO service delivery chief Robert Ravanello.

“There are examples of service delivery employees dressing too casually or immodestly, therefore impacting on the perceptions of the professionalism of the ATO,” said Ravanello.

“Our professionalism is displayed through our values and code of conduct, but also through our appearance and dress. Items of clothing such as thongs, board shorts or revealing attire, are just some examples of clothing that are considered to be too casual and therefore inappropriate for the ATO workplace,” he said.

SmartCompany contacted the ATO for comment but did not receive a response prior to publication.

However, a spokesperson for Tax Commissioner Chris Jordan told Fairfax the ATO “won’t comment on rumours, but we expect people to dress professionally”.

“Our appearance and dress should reflect our pride in the ATO and our respect for those we work and deal with, particularly the public,” said the spokesperson. “We expect staff to exercise good judgement on what is appropriate to wear and if they are unsure we encourage them to ask their manager.”

Psychologist and SmartCompany blogger Eve Ash told SmartCompany there are three reasons why an employer may ask an employee to change their clothing.

The first is an employee’s appearance does not meet the workplace’s agreed-upon standards. Secondly, there may be health reasons to ask an employee to change something they are wearing, such as smelly gym clothes. Thirdly, an employee may have to ask their employee to change their appearance if another staff member has taken offence.

Ash says it’s critical for businesses to have clear guidelines and expectations for workplace attire, which are communicated to staff and understood by everyone.

“Over the years with the rise of casual Fridays, it may be the case that these standards are not discussed now like they used to be,” says Ash.

However, Ash says moves by an employer to send home workers for dressing inappropriately could have damaging effects on the organisation’s culture and morale.

“This is why companies need to discuss what the standards are,” she says.

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