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April 01, 2008  |   Comments (0)   |   Post a comment

Best Practices in Driver Dress

School bus drivers’ attire should look professional while providing a full range of motion for inspections, evacuations and other duties. Here are tips on shaping dress policies and deciding whether uniforms are a good fit for your operation.

by Michael Dallessandro


If you were to say the words “bus driver” to somebody who grew up in the 1950s or ’60s, they would probably have a pretty spit-shined image pop into their head.

Imagining a bus driver from that era of American history brings back memories of a silver city bus or a shiny Greyhound coach with a driver who looked like Jackie Gleason in the television show The Honeymooners, or maybe Robert De Niro in the movie A Bronx Tale.

A blue or gray uniform with a name badge and a policeman-style hat was the standard dress for that job then, and in some areas of the country, it is still the dress today.

Now say the words “school bus driver,” and the image in your head is probably much different than that of the old city bus or coach bus driver. Most people from the ’50s to the late ’70s probably remember their school bus driver as a 40-or-older member of their community wearing the requisite pair of jeans, sneakers or boots, sweatshirt with a school bus slogan on it, and, if they lived in colder climates, a bulky winter jacket.

This person was comfortable at work while, at the same time, dressed for any emergency that might come up while driving — or ready to hop off the bus and go grocery shopping and run household errands between a.m. and p.m. routes.

Fast forward to 2008. A visit to a local shopping mall on a Saturday afternoon can be a bit of a nerve-wracking experience for a school transportation director. I will say right up front that I truly do not believe in judging a book by its cover — or a person for how they look, for that matter — and I am sure I will offend at least one person with comments in this article.

But with that said, the next generation of potential school bus drivers strolling through the local mall does raise the age-old questions of “To uniform or not to uniform?” and what constitutes too much when it comes to body piercings and tattoos.

In this article, I hope to touch on the pros and cons of dress codes and uniforms, managing the exploding popularity of body art and what type of dress is appropriate for both safety and the good public image of your transportation fleet.

No quick fix
Uniforms are not a silver bullet. If you have lately been looking over your staff or the staff you might have in the future and are thinking that a uniform is the perfect answer, think twice.

Uniforms do not make your dress or fashion concerns disappear overnight. Employees are unique people. Despite having uniforms, your staff may put their own twists on how they wear, maintain and decorate them.

The most important thing your transportation operation should be doing is making sure dress is something you have made a priority long before considering a uniform. If you currently do not have a dress code, or if you do have one and have not revisited it recently, chances are that no dress issues have come up lately. But that doesn’t mean they won’t.

A school transportation operation must present an image of professionalism at all times. Often, the school bus driver is the only contact a parent has with the district for months on end. Remember that we are asking parents to surrender a child to our custody, and we do not want to be presenting ourselves or our department in a way that makes parents question that trust.

Uniforms or street clothes can make your staff look professional or a mess. If your operation has not put a priority on public image, personal safety, hygiene and self-esteem, you are already behind the eight ball.

Don’t discriminate
The decision to have a dress code or require uniforms for staff cannot be taken lightly. First and foremost, managers must consider the impact that an increasingly multicultural workforce has on your desire for uniformity.

In most cases, employers of 15 people or more must follow anti-discrimination guidelines set forth in various civil rights rulings. These may vary from state to state, so it is important to have any dress code or planned employee uniform policy reviewed by your attorney.

While the decision to institute uniforms or a dress code for your employees is a management matter — or in the case of a school district, a school board policy matter — it does help the process to involve your staff at the ground level.

By getting some input from your staff members, you can avoid decisions that may be considered discriminatory or simply too restrictive. Also, by getting input from drivers and monitors working in the field, they can tell you if a proposed dress code or certain uniform item will not work correctly or will be too cumbersome for them while driving.

Getting early buy-in from your staff members can help the process go smoothly when you officially roll it out.

{+PAGEBREAK+} Dress details
Whether you decide to institute a dress code or a uniform policy, the goals are often the same at the beginning. A transportation provider must have a workforce that presents a trustworthy, skilled and safe-looking image.

Hair, regardless of gender, must be well kempt. In the case of individuals who have long hair, it should be pulled back.

This is especially important when working on routes with special-education children. Long hair can be inviting, and these children will often reach out for it. The same is to be said for jewelry that dangles.

Clothing should be clean and durable. Anything a driver or monitor wears should provide for a full range of movement, allowing the employee to drive, complete proper pre- and post-trip inspections, load and secure wheelchairs, and evacuate in an emergency.

Underwear is just that. It should be kept under employees’ outer garments. There has been a growing trend with younger staffers to expose underwear items as a fashion statement. This behavior must be strictly prohibited, especially when working around children.

Footwear is an area that stirs a great deal of conversation. Many employees like comfortable, fashionable footwear, and this is probably fine 99.9 percent of the time. However, there is always the potential for an emergency in which employees will need to be fast and confident on their feet. They could also have to perform rescue duties in broken glass, water, fuel or oils following an accident.

Transportation employees should have footwear that is fully secured on their foot, provides good traction and shields the skin on their feet from the elements and hazardous materials.

Consider costs
When considering whether to issue uniforms, you cannot go into the decision blindly. It should not be a kneejerk reaction to dress code issues. There are budgetary and policy matters that must be cleared before proceeding.

Uniforms are often referred to as gifts that keep on giving. In most cases, you will issue two shirts and two pairs of pants to an employee. This can run about $100 per employee for items of decent quality. In colder climates, a jacket may be issued as well, which can cost an additional $65 each.

This is not the end. Your operation must decide how often the items will be replaced at employer expense. You will also have to establish cleanliness guidelines, because clean to one person is not necessarily clean to another person.

Lettering is another added cost; however, it is highly recommended. I know of people who use company-issued clothing while doing work at their homes or in their side businesses. Your school or contractor name and the employee’s name screened or embroidered on the clothing can reduce this, thereby reducing wear, tear and early replacement and saving you dollars in the long run.

The final item to consider is who else will be impacted by a uniform policy. In the case of a contract operation, it is easy to outfit all of your drivers and monitors as a matter of company policy.

But this may not be the case for a school district whose support employees may be represented by a single bargaining unit. You may have to issue the same uniform to all of your employees — drivers, monitors, custodians, cafeteria workers and others — if your contract or union requires it. Check on this before enacting a uniform policy.

Body art on the bus?
For many years, tattoos and piercings were not considered an everyday concern in the workforce. Tattoos were often on the arms of former military personnel, and they were occasionally used as a testimonial of eternal love for a person or as a memorial. Of course, tattoos were also affiliated with motorcycle enthusiasts, and most school transportation operations had one or two staff members who sported their Harleys and tattoos during good weather. But for the most part, they did it in good taste.

Piercings were mostly left to pierced ears for women and the occasional single pierced ear for men.

Today, through reality television, music and fashion, both piercings and tattoos have become mainstream. Tattoos are ubiquitous — from moms with small dolphins on their ankles to dads with spider webs on their elbows.

Piercings now appear on a wide range of people, including police officers and firefighters, who have customarily had to conform to some of the strictest work uniform policies.

But piercings have not stopped at traditional areas. It appears that every body part can be and has been pierced. Eyebrow, nose and lip piercings are now commonly seen. Once again, in this area we must make our staff understand that we are trying to provide a professional image while at the same time respecting their desire to be individuals.

Think about how the mother or father of a kindergartner would feel on the first day of school upon seeing a driver with multiple piercings, ear lobe hoops and satanic or risqué tats pull up to take their child? They probably would not have the initial warm, fuzzy feeling you would want them to have for your driver and your operation.

It is perfectly fine for your operation to establish a policy on these items, such as prohibiting visible tattoos or piercings. Of course, you can make an exception to that policy, in writing, to allow traditional pierced earrings (one in each ear) if you wish.

The most important element in dealing with this issue is to be up-front and honest during the hiring process. If a quality applicant is going through the interview process with you but has visible tattoos or unusual piercings, bring this policy to his or her attention and discuss how to meet your dress code and policies.

Write and review
I hope this article has addressed concerns you may have regarding uniforms and dress codes for your staff. The best way to ensure professionalism and uniformity is to have your dress code — whatever it may be — in writing.

Cover your dress code in training, and occasionally walk through your driver room or time-clock area. By casually bringing dress concerns to the attention of individual employees as you notice them, you can often head off problems before they spread through the department and become a major headache.

Michael Dallessandro is transportation supervisor at Lake Shore Central School District in Angola, N.Y., and a frequent contributor to SCHOOL BUS FLEET.


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