Roy Lester was a lifeguard for more than 40 years, but in 2007 he was fired by Jones Beach State Park, a division of New York Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, because he refused to wear a skimpy speedo-style swimsuit for his annual re-qualification exam.Roy wasn’t fired because he couldn’t perform his job – as a matter of fact he is a former tri-athelete and likely in better physical condition that most men half his age.

According to New Your Office of Parks, male lifeguards must wear “boxer[s], briefs or board shorts” during the annual 100-yard swim they must finish in 75 seconds, to re-qualify according to state standards. Lester preferred to wear a more modest pair of biking shorts for his test in 2007, but was not given the option. When he refused, he was fired. For Lester, the issue is one of age discrimination, but it’s also a question of company policies that don’t make sense.

There are 3 major reasons for employees negative views of company policies:

  1. Policies that are poorly conceived and written
  2. No one understands the reason for the policy
  3. Policies are not changed or deleted when they no longer apply

My guess is that Roy refused to wear the swimsuit styles specified by New York Office of Parks making the leadership mad and they decided to demonstrate their authority by firing him. While this is often commonplace in organizations, it is short sighted and petty. A better approach would have been to attempt to find a win-win that could accommodate the employee and comply with company policy.

3 tips to improve your policies and win:

  • Know the purpose of your policy – what is the intent of the policy. By understanding the intent, you can more objectively consider individual situations and maintain consistency.
  • Know the reason for the policy – No, I don’t mean the purpose, I mean why are you writing it? Are you implementing a policy because of a leadership deficiency or because a policy is really needed?
  • Standard or Guideline – A standard is a set of rules that must be followed without exception. A Guideline is a recommended process that should be followed. Standards should be used sparingly as they restrict both the business and the employee and if too commonly used and too rigid will be ignored by both leaders and employees.

Employees don’t sue employers because they make a mistake or a tough decision. Employees sue employers because of the way they make them feel. What messages are your policies and procedures sending to your employees?