DHHR planning recourse after blue jean ban overturned

By John O'Brien | May 24, 2006

CHARLESTON - If anyone in West Virginia wants to challenge their company's dress code, now is the time.

The state Employees Grievance Board recently overturned the Department of Health and Human Resources' ban on employees wearing blue jeans, meaning the approximately 6,000 DHHR employees around the state can put their khakis back in the dresser if they want to.

Though maybe not for too long.

DHHR spokesman John Law said Tuesday the department is busy figuring out what its next step is going to be, though he admits right now is the time for anyone with a dress-code gripe to sound off.

The Level IV grievance crosses boundaries in the state, he said.

"The precedent is now there," Law said.

The DHHR imposed a new dress code Oct. 1 in an effort to become more professional, Law said. The department has offices in all 55 counties. In addition, some in Charleston are located at the Capitol Complex and downtown.

Law said the department made the change with the well-being of those the DHHR strives to help in mind by trying to put forth a soothing, professional atmosphere to people whose lives are in disarray.

"You don't have to wear a suit everyday, but we deal with folks often after they experience a trauma in their life," Law said. "They're at their wit's end… and really having a tough time, and we want those people to see a professional in a setting that's also professional trying to help them. We're working towards that."

The Employees Grievance Board also determined a ban on shorts was unreasonable for those who work in very warm conditions.

Law said the DHHR is weighing its options of either a policy rewrite or a circuit court appeal.

A compromise in the dress code could please the Employees Grievance Board enough to uphold certain aspects of it, Law said.

But an appeal to Kanawha Circuit Court by the office of state Attorney General Darrell McGraw may end up being the DHHR's choice. That's where appeals of Level IV grievances are filed.

Whatever the DHHR decides, Law promises it will be filed soon.

"I think we're looking at everything," he said. "We have to make a consideration of, one, what's best for our clients, and, two, what's best for us."

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