Work

Is It Required to Wear Pants When You’re on a Zoom Work Call?

A (kinda) low-stakes debate.

A guy on a work call wears a suit jacket and boxers.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Getty Images Plus.

When you’ve voted, donated, volunteered, and screamed into the void, what’s left? Leading up to Election Day, Slate is offering a series of Low-Stakes Debates as brief respites for your all-consuming anxiety.

This time: Do you have to wear pants on a Zoom work call?

Jeffrey Bloomer: Christina, we come to debate: Is it necessary to wear pants while you’re on Zoom? I suppose we should stipulate it’s a work Zoom, since people use Zoom for … lots of purposes. What do you think?

Christina Cauterucci: Jeff, I clutched my entire strand of pearls when I learned that you don’t think pants—or other lower-half cover-ups—are a must-wear in a digital workplace setting. What are you thinking?! The ink on Jeffrey Toobin’s cancellation diktat is still wet! For me, the issue is simple. I don’t want people at work to see me naked, or in my underwear. No one should want that.

Jeffrey: Hey, spoiler alert! But OK, since I knew your position going into this and we’re here to debate, you have accurately divined where I stand: I think what you are wearing out of sight of the Zoom screen is no one’s business. I too do not want people at work to see me naked or in my underwear, and for that purpose, I am not sure I actually ever have done a work Zoom in my underwear (what if I stand up by accident?). But I think it would be fine if I did.

I will say I am surprised so many people disagree, or at the very least that no one else from Slate.com was willing to go on the record for this debate! Toobin aside, I thought it was well established that “business on top, whatever on bottom” was fine. What about heartwarming scientist cable news mom!! (Who, granted, I think later qualified that she was wearing shorter shorts, not underwear)

Christina: The issue here is differing definitions of “whatever.” Things that are inappropriate for most workplaces but appropriate for, say, the grocery store are fine. Sweatpants, cargo pants with holes in them, footie pajamas, even short shorts. Not no-shorts. With stakes as high as the workplace (and we’re talking legal stakes, here in addition to social and financial stakes), it’s unacceptable to risk even the slightest possibility that a laptop could shift or you might accidentally stand up in such a way that your naked or undie’d nether regions are exposed. Unacceptable!

If I were managing someone who I discovered wasn’t wearing pants during work calls, I would issue them an official warning or whatever. It’s disrespectful and playing with fire to a degree that I’d call gross negligence. Because there’s absolutely no reason not to wear pants during the workday.

Jeffrey: Well, the reason would be that it’s comfortable not to wear pants and you’re in your house.

Christina: No, it’s not, but that’s another debate.

Jeffrey: !?

Christina: You want your bare upper thighs or butt cheeks all over your chairs?! No matter the temperature?! Or how sweaty you might get in a moment of stress?!

Jeffrey: I guess I do not fear my body touching my furniture, no. If I am cold, I favor socks and a blanket.

Christina: … and no pants?

Jeffrey: Gym shorts maybe? Boxers are an acceptable barrier to the most problematic “aspects” of you touching your furniture.

Christina: Do your boxers look enough like shorts that they’d be OK to parade in front of your co-workers?

Jeffrey: My boxers are not more revealing than short shorts. I certainly would not want to “parade” around in them. But: I definitely hear you on the potential gravity! I do not really think “laptop shift” is a real problem outside of the Toobin situation—like, take a meeting at your desk or at the kitchen table. (Though: Do I do Zoom calls in bed sometimes? I do.)

Christina: I have knocked over enough glasses of water in my day to know that an errant slip of a hand could mean catastrophe.

Jeffrey: The question of whether it is disrespectful is interesting. I don’t really do it, like I said, because I live in fear of Zoom, and perhaps NOT living in fear of this possibility shows a certain arrogance or disregard for your colleagues.

Christina: You sure do keep mentioning that you don’t do this, Jeff!

Jeffrey: I don’t! I don’t think. Maybe I have.

Christina: It’s arrogance and also, at its core, disregard for whether people are made uncomfortable by your state of undress. Because the fact is, there’s always a chance someone could see.

Jeffrey: I suppose that is inescapable. I’ve worn a tank top once or twice on Zoom and definitely gotten made fun of. That’s probably a hint.

Christina: It’s wild that men’s shoulders are considered risqué for the workplace. I am pro–tank top, for the record.

Jeffrey: Thank you. So to you, the issue here is primarily the risk your colleagues will see you, and if that were ruled out—which, admittedly, it cannot be—it wouldn’t be a problem.

Christina: For the most part, yes. There is still a part of me that feels weird about the prospect of talking on the phone with colleagues who are in their underwear. But I guess what I don’t know can’t hurt me? Unless there’s a kink-type aspect to it.

Jeffrey: Yes, that’s what I was sensing a bit here—that there must be an untoward reason someone would want to talk to you in their underwear. But for me, it would be more in the vein of “Shit, I’m 5 minutes late to this Zoom, and I would NOT wear what I’m wearing to the office, but—”

Before Zoom, were people on remote conference calls in their underwear? I fear so! The video perhaps does heighten it to an unacceptable risk.

Christina: I guess your scenario makes sense. I’m thinking more that it doesn’t make sense to make a pattern of it. Maybe I have air conditioner privilege here, but I always wear pants or shorts around the house. However, I am now remembering that I HAVE gone to the bathroom while listening in on a conference call. But that wasn’t video and I really had to pee.

I’ve definitely heard a lot of stories of people hearing sex noises or bathroom noises over conference calls. The switch to so many video calls has made it harder to do things you wouldn’t normally do in a conference room meeting. Like wear no pants!

Jeffrey: Yes, the bathroom is its own frontier here. Would I take a Zoom in there, even if the camera and audio were “off”? No!!!

So I guess we arrive at tranquility. Pants on for work Zooms, but if you don’t do that and get up from your desk by accident, know that you deserve your execution.

Christina: And if you have to pee, smash that mute button too.

Jeffrey: No, then lock the computer three rooms away first! Not worth it.