Union Wins Agreement on Attire Policy for OCIE Examination Staff

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12/15/09: The Union and the SEC have entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) settling a national grievance that Chapter 293 filed last year in response to the imposition of an attire policy by Lori Richards, the erstwhile Director of the Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations (OCIE). Under the MOU, SEC examination staff will no longer be compelled to wear business attire on all examinations.

Ms. Richard's 2008 attire policy for OCIE examination staff provided that all employees were required to wear formal business attire whenever they were on examinations, even in cases where a registrant has a business casual attire policy. The only exception provided to this inflexible policy was in situations where there is little or no chance of interacting with anyone outside the SEC, such as when “reviewing materials in a warehouse.” All employees were also prohibited from contacting registrants to inquire as to their attire standards prior to examinations.

This attire policy was contradicted by the rule agreed upon in Article 26 of the Union's Collective Bargaining Agreement with the SEC, which clearly provides that employees are not required to wear business attire where a different attire standard has been established by those outside the Agency with whom they will be interacting. Many registrants have adopted business casual attire policies in recent years, and it is entirely appropriate for SEC employees to choose to dress to this standard when visiting such entities.

Under the new MOU, examination staff now may wear business casual attire when the attire standard at a registrant is less than formal business attire. Furthermore, in all cases where the examined entity is aware of the pending examination (in other words, where it is not a surprise cause exam), the lead examiner may contact the registrant in advance to determine the attire standard established for the highest ranking personnel at the registrant with which the examiners are reasonably likely to interact. "Reasonably likely to interact" is defined as situations where the lead examiner concludes and reasonably foresees, based on the nature of the examination, previous experience and his or her inquiry of the registrant, that the examiners more likely than not will have more than incidental or casual interaction during the examination.

Prior to filing this grievance last year, Union officials made every effort to attempt to resolve this issue with OCIE senior management, but they were unable to reach an agreement. With recent changes at the top of OCIE, the Union was finally able to resolve this conflict.

"The business world has for many years been moving towards less rigid attire standards, and it didn't make sense for OCIE to refuse to acknowledge that reality,” NTEU attorney Ralph Talarico, who handled the arbitration for the Union, remarked this morning. "I was gratified that we were able to reach a reasonable compromise on this issue for SEC examination staff." 

When Charles II decreed in the 1660s that men must wear a coat, cravat and wig while at court, he probably did not know how far the "suit" concept would travel into the future. In the 1800s, Beau Brummel (pictured here) is often credited with establishing the tradition of the contemporary business suit.

Despite the longevity of Mr. Brummel's concept, business casual attire is today widely accepted as a neat, crisp look that is entirely appropriate in many contemporary business settings. Although it is a more relaxed and comfortable way to dress, it is still professional, neat and pulled together. It does not detract from the professionalism of the many individuals who dress in this fashion every day.