Employees are Changing Dress Codes Through Collective Action


From beards to tattoos — thousands of employees have joined successful campaigns on Coworker.org that have changed policies at major employers.

Employees often have a lot of opinions about the dress code requirements at their jobs. Having to physically prepare oneself each day to comply with corporate regulations gives employees a certain expertise that company leaders who set these rules do not share. In the last few years, thousands of workers have decided to take action together to improve dress code policies — and they are winning. At Coworker.org, we’ve seen employees successfully launch campaigns to change their appearance guidelines at several major employers.

Here are a few examples of their efforts.

In 2014, Kristie Williams, a barista at a Starbucks in Georgia at the time, started this campaign on Coworker.org calling on the coffee chain to allow employees to have visible tattoos. Kristie started the campaign after feeling frustrated that she had to cover a tattoo of her daughter’s name on her arm with long sleeves when her store’s air conditioning broke down during the summer. She wrote in her petition: “I can’t tell you how many times I have pumped a syrup of some type DOWN MY SHIRT SLEEVE on accident… Long sleeves GET IN THE WAY!!”

The petition caught on among other Starbucks baristas immediately and thousands signed on in support. Many of Kristie’s coworkers shared their own stories about how the policy against tattoos impacted them at work on a daily basis. Some even shared photos of their tattoos and the stories behind them using the hashtag #SbuxTattoos. The campaign was covered by a broad range of press outlets from CNN to Huffington Post to USA Today. Then, in October of 2014, Kristie won her campaign and baristas at Starbucks are now allowed to have visible tattoos at workCheck out this interview with Kristie to learn more about her campaign.

Since Kristie’s successful campaign at Starbucks, employees at a number of companies have launched their own campaigns to alter dress codes — many of them inspired by Kristie.

  • Thousands of Jimmy John’s employees joined this campaign on Coworker.org for visible tattoos and the sandwich chain updated its dress code accordingly in October 2015;
  • Retail employees at the footwear company Skechers also won the ability to have visible tattoos at work in 2017 following this campaign on Coworker.org;
  • After the victory on tattoos, Starbucks employees launched campaigns for additional updates to the company’s dress code such as dying their hair “unnatural” colors and allowing blue jeans — changes Starbucks eventually implemented.

In 2015, Brandon Wesley, a high school student at the time and bagger at a Publix location in Florida, started a campaign on Coworker.org asking the company to allow employees to have beards. Brandon has noted that his campaign “wasn’t started merely for a style and fad update, but because for some people with sensitive skin, it can be painful to have to shave every day for work.” Many of his coworkers agreed and shared comments on his petitions about how painful it can be to shave frequently over sensitive skin. The campaign proved to be widely popular among Brandon’s coworkers. Over 12,000 self-identified Publix employees joined the campaign calling on the company to #FreeTheBeard.

Then, in 2018, Publix started a pilot program allowing employees to have neat and clean facial hair in some locations. Three years after Brandon launched his campaign on Coworker.org, Publix announced that employees will now be allowed to have beards starting on September 29, 2018.

In addition to these successful campaigns, other employees are still working to push for their own dress code updates using Coworker.org: Chick-Fil-A employees are asking for beards; employees at Dollar GeneralPizza HutDomino’sWalmartMcDonald’s and Jimmy John’s are calling for their companies to allow dyed hair; and Walmart associates would like to wear shorts.

You can check out all of the campaigns to change dress codes on Coworker.org here — and if you want to change the dress code in your workplace, you can start your own campaign here.

After experiencing the success of collective action, employees at some of these companies have started campaigns about other workplace issues too. For example, Starbucks baristas have spoken out about staffing levels in stores and access to paid parental leave while Publix employees started a campaign about the pressure to promote charities.

Coworker.org is a global platform to advance change in the workplace. Our technology makes it easy for individuals or groups of employees to launch, join and win campaigns to improve their jobs and workplaces. You can start your own campaign about changes you want to see in your workplace on Coworker.org here — or contact us at [email protected] if you would like to discuss a workplace issue with our team.