Is it really reasonable for supervisors in a federal agency to prohibit the wearing of cargo shorts to work? After all – it is summer, which means it can be sweltering hot in just about every geographic region of the United States.
According to a recent decision by the Federal Labor Relations Authority – the answer to the question is indeed yes, it really is unreasonable to put such a restrictive dress code in place for Custom and Border Protection officers. As a result, the FLRA has ordered CBP to negotiate with the National Treasury Employees Union over the employees’ ability to wear cargo shorts while on the job.
NTEU challenged a CBP proposal more than a year ago banning the wearing of such shorts in air and seaport cargo as well as land border passenger and cargo environments—except for southwest border locations, south Florida and Puerto Rico.
NTEU sought to bargain and get CBP agreement to continue to allow NTEU-represented officers to wear shorts in these locations. CBP refused to negotiate, claiming the NTEU proposal was non-negotiable because it violated its right to determine internal security practices and its right to determine the method and means of performing work.
“CBP offered no rational reason” why officers should be prevented from wearing cargo shorts, NTEU President Colleen M. Kelley stated in a press release, adding that shorts are an accepted part of the uniform in other federal, state, and municipal law enforcement agencies. And even though the agency did not move to implement its proposal, it is now barred from doing so until it reaches agreement with NTEU.
CBP made a variety of arguments before the FLRA that if it were prevented from ordering officers to wear long pants, its management rights would be violated, including these:
• Officers would no longer be identifiable as law enforcement personnel;
• In shorts, they wouldn’t present a professional law enforcement image;
• A separate policy for NTEU-represented officers in CBP workplaces would be ‘divisive and disruptive;
• An increased risk of sunburn would exist;
• So would an increased risk an officer could be killed or injured;
• Officers would be limited in their “ability to kneel or crawl;”
• Officers’ legs wouldn’t be protected during a physical encounter;
• Officers would not have to change if the weather turned cold; and
• One policy regarding shorts would help the agency meet its mission of preventing terrorists and weapons of mass destruction from entering the country.
In finding the NTEU proposal negotiable, the FLRA rejected all of CBP’s arguments.