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Dress and Personal Hygiene

In America, dress is often based on personal taste or current fashion trends. In many other cultures, dress reflects status, wealth, religious beliefs, and traditional sensibilities. For women it may be inappropriate to wear clothes that are revealing. Shorts or skirts may be considered taboo. Even a uniform provided by an employer may be considered inappropriate if it includes trousers. In the workplace a balance can be struck regarding dress codes and uniforms. Management and employees can find a middle ground that respects cultural norms while satisfying an employer’s need for safety, functionality and appearance.

Similarly, personal hygiene must be a shared standard that accommodates workplace norms. Employees from diverse cultural backgrounds will not necessarily share the same personal hygienic practices. Nonetheless, a standard of preferred personal hygiene should be communicated. This may necessitate a conversation or orientation for employees who have not been exposed to American standards of personal hygiene.

Question: What is the meaning of head covering among Somali women?
Many Muslim women cover their heads and also wear loose fitting clothing. Some cover their faces. Muslim women adopt this practice, called hijab, in accordance with religious teachings. Hijab means “to hide from view or conceal” and refers to both the custom and the head covering itself. The practice calls for women to cover their heads and necks and to wear loose clothing that does not describe the shape of their bodies. The purpose of this type of dress is to display their Muslim identity with a dignified sense of modesty that does not draw attention from men. Due to safety concerns, some of the loose, flowing dress has caused difficulty for employers who utilize machinery or assembly lines. Consulting with female Muslim employees to adapt their dress for safety reasons may require the assistance of a culturally specific community-based organization or employment counselor.

Question: What should I do when an employee has a body odor problem?
In such a situation the problem must be addressed directly using an interpreter, trusted co-worker or an intermediary with the required language skills. A minimum standard of personal hygiene and cleanliness should be expected of all employees. An employee with a body odor problem or lack of clean clothing most likely does not even recognize that such a standard exists. To respectfully inform the individual is a favor to all concerned, preventing embarrassment and gossip.

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