Should an intern have the right to complain about dress codes?

We were recently asked to comment in an article on Human Resources Online regarding the severity of work dress codes and a group of interns who were fired from their internship as a result of wanting to loosen the dress code.

If you’re an intern at a big company and you don’t like one of the company’s rules, what do you do? What these interns did was fairly aggressive. One of them noticed another employee wearing trainers and so, unhappy about the fact that their colleague was allowed to wear trainers and they were not, they decided to rally round all the other interns and get their signatures on a petition to allow them, the interns, to not have to abide by such a “strict dress code”.

The following day, that intern, along with all the others who signed the “professionally-written proposal” were let go with immediate effect. Said intern wrote in to a career advice blog called Ask a Manager, saying they could not believe that they had been fired.

Let’s go back to the beginning of this story and look at one glaring issue: they were interns! An internship is all about gaining experience, learning from the company and your managers, in order to add value to your CV and ultimately benefit your future career. During an internship, which may last just a week, or several months, the point is to absorb as much information and experience as possible. It also means accepting that company’s rules and regulations, as, chances are, they form part of the company’s identity and were put in place for a reason.

Aily Foo, Senior Consultant for Links International’s temporary and contract recruitment division was quoted in the article as saying: “The intern should have discussed this with their direct supervisor, rather than personally asking around for the other interns to support him/her. The way they went about it was aggressive and would seriously affect the morale in the office and could also damage the corporate image. What’s more, the intern put the other interns at risk and got them all fired too.”

This differs from a story that came out earlier this year about a receptionist who was fired on her first day at PwC in London for not wearing heels. Provided they are smart flat shoes, and not trainers or flip flops, there is no reason that wearing flats will affect how a woman does her job, and should not affect the company’s image.

Going back to the interns, they should not have acted the way they did, but should have either had a quiet word with their manager to ask why there were different standards on dress code (in this case it was due to an injury that the other employee had suffered), or kept quiet and accepted the company’s policy, remembering that they were just interns on a short-term agreement and there to gain work experience.

“That said, however,” said Aily Foo, “since interns are effectively babies in the workplace, I do think the company should have given them a written warning, instead of immediately terminating their employment.” Clearly the interns didn’t realise the wrong they were doing; now they will understand this, but perhaps being fired wasn’t the only way to teach them this lesson.

What is your opinion? If you’re looking for career advice, or if you’re unhappy at your current job and are looking for alternative options, contact us and let us take your career to the next level.