Short (skirt) Requests

by Evil HR Lady on February 16, 2009

I wish I had one of you were I work so you could take care of this problem for me! I am the administrative assitant at a very small law firm (3 people). My boss is an older man (in his 60′s), his partner is in her late 30′s and the junior associate is another woman in her mid 20′s. I am in my early 20′s.

My boss, the only man in this small firm, is constantly telling me his preference for skirts. And not just skirts – short skirts. With neutral nylons, if I must wear them, not dark or black. If I do wear pants to work (dress pants, with heels and a nice blouse), he takes it as a personal insult. If I wear a skirt or dress he thanks me for “dressing up” for him. It’s infuriating. Granted, I haven’t really said anything because I was new, but I am coming to a breaking point. It’s come to the point where one Friday he let me and my youngest co-worker go home early. He then asked me if I would dress up “nice” for him on Monday since he let us go early that day, all the while saying nothing to the other girl he let go early as well. He never say anything about this to my young co-worker, and his partner complies with and enables this behavior. I find it completely inappropriate. What should I do? Is this even legal? He seriously comments on my clothes at least 3 times a week.

This is what you need to do: Tell him to stop.

I realize this is uncomfortable and you’d rather the problem just went away. Or, as you mentioned, you’d like to turn it over to an HR person. Granted, most HR people would happily throttle someone like that for you, but you don’t have one and so your options are to quit or deal with it yourself.

The next time he makes a comment say, firmly, “Bob, do not comment on my clothing choices. It is not appropriate and could be considered sexual harassment.”

Then document the conversation. Every single time he says something remind him that it is inappropriate.

A few outcomes are possible. One is that he will be embarrassed because he truly did not realize what he was doing was inappropriate. (After all he may have read this horrible post that Ask a Manager linked to.)

Another outcome is that he will become defensive and state that he was “just kidding” and you are “too sensitive.” If he says that, don’t apologize for being offended, just state that you do not appreciate it. “Now that you know I am offended, I’m sure you won’t do it.”

A third outcome is that you’ll be fired. I’d like to say that’s not a possible outcome, but it is. Sexual harassers can also be jerks. If that happens, definitely apply for unemployment. I’m not a huge fan of lawsuits because they rarely solve anything and drag on forever and since you’d be suing a lawyer he’ll be able to defend himself cheaply. You can contact your local EEOC office for help.

If you repeatedly tell him to stop commenting and he does not, make sure you document every instance and go ahead and contact the EEOC. Also, start looking for another job. Some battles are not worth sticking through to the bitter end.

Note, you must tell him to stop before you escalate the issue. If you don’t, you fall into the category of wimps that drive me nuts. We’re grown ups here and should attempt to solve our own problems. Hopefully, your case will fall into scenario one and bringing it to his attention will solve the problem. Most don’t go into category three.

{ 35 comments… read them below or add one }

Dataceptionist February 16, 2009 at 11:46 pm

EW! Thats SO inappropriate. Good luck and get away from that slimeball.

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HR Minion February 16, 2009 at 11:46 pm

Creepy! She has to talk to him or his requests could escalate as well.

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Sadistic Manager February 17, 2009 at 1:06 am

Ew. Eeeuw. The way she words the letter makes this guy sound like a stranger asking for candy.

HR Minion is right. Next thing you know he’ll be calling her “honey” and “darling” and asking him to sit on his lap while she takes dictation.

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Anonymous February 17, 2009 at 7:03 am

I don’t see this as sexual harassment. It’s a dress policy, which the female partner in the company complies with. Given that both these people are not only lawyers, but partners, I doubt any real harassment is going on.

Further, I don’t see how this is any different from a boss asking a guy to wear a tie. My boss occasionally asks me. I fight it. Sure, I find it a little harassing. But, it’s not sexual. And I have no real basis for complaint. Neither does this woman.

Sure, both the requirement of tie for men and skirt for women are based on sex. However, laws are pretty specific that those dress codes are not considered sexual harassment.

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Rodolphe Mortreuil February 17, 2009 at 8:34 am

Anonymous,
If it were a dress code policy, he would actively have it enforced by everyone in the firm. The writer clearly states she’s singled out and he doesn’t seem to ask her colleague to dress the same.
Anyway he asks it as a request, he doesn’t enforce it as a policy. Policies do not need employees to be let go early one day in order to be enforced the next day.
It is clearly inappropriate behaviour by a lecherous old man.

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Sarah February 17, 2009 at 12:34 pm

If the boss wishes to enforce the dress code, then he should directly tell his employees that they should dress accordingly, and not suggest a few women in the office ‘dress nice’ for him. To me, that sort of comment comes across as passive-aggressive and borderline creepy.

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El Comodoro February 17, 2009 at 12:35 pm

This is like one of those badly acted, hilarious videos they show you at the first week at work at Generic Corporation, Inc. Wow.

I can’t believe this slimeball keeps starting the conversation, “Remember, now, on Monday…” This is absolutely crying for litigation, and this clown should know that. EHRL gives very solid advice. Stop sign it ASAP, and document, document, document.

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Anonymous February 17, 2009 at 4:20 pm

It’s more than just a policy or a dress code, as the poster states “And not just skirts – SHORT skirts” and “he thanks me for “dressing up” FOR HIM” (emphasis mine).

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Anonymous February 17, 2009 at 4:26 pm

He is a lawyer with considerable experience. He should know better…but my guess is that he knows the poster is in her early 20s and still learning the ropes.

I agree with everything stated. Next time he asks you to “dress pretty for him” (vomiting in my mouth a little), tell him that comments like that make you uncomfortable and they are inappropriate. If he blows you off, the next time he makes a comment, tell him again, and then send him an email, explaining that on Monday, February X, you verbally asked him to stop making harassing comments (include what he said). On Wednesday, February X, he stated, “Y” and you once again asked him to stop making such comments. My guess is that once it’s in writing, this jerk will stop. Or fire you. In which case, there’s a paper trail and you’ll have a decent case to go after him.

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Anonymous February 17, 2009 at 4:35 pm

There’s a 4th outcome possible – that she will learn to deal with it. Not that she should, but it’s possible.

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Anonymous February 17, 2009 at 5:33 pm

Sounds like a guys who’s used to getting his way. He’s not likely to respond well to threats. My response would be to have a meeting with him saying that you enjoy working for him (if this is otherwise true) but that you consider the comments about your skirts to be sexual harassment and that he should please stop. Being a lawyer myself, if one of my staff mentioned “sexual harassment,” i’d be working hard to clean up my act.

Hopefully this conversation won’t put him on the defensive and might help you save your job.

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Thebe February 17, 2009 at 7:47 pm

This is what I would do. I would stop wearing skirts of any sort — ever. If he asks me about skirts, I would say I’m more comfortable in slacks. I would be pleasant and accommodating, but no skirts. He can’t make you wear skirts unless he enforces it as a company policy across the board. I would just hate the idea of this guy checking out my legs every day. I like the other advice about confronting him and documenting the discussions, but as the Seinfeld character would say: “No skirts for you!” He has abused his leg-watching privileges, as far as you are concerned, and they are thereby revoked.

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HR Godess February 17, 2009 at 9:18 pm

I agree with Thebe; wear slacks and if he asks you to wear a skirt, mention the sexual harrassment line to him. Otherwise, he can put out a policy requiring you to wear skirts. Until he does so, I’d refrain.

It’s also time to start looking for a different job if this makes you uncomfortable.

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Anonymous February 18, 2009 at 6:41 am

I think you should ask him if this is a formal dress code policy for the firm. If it is, ask him to enforce it uniformly and then decide if you want to deal with it.

At the end of the day, it may be a bad fit with the firm if the senior partner wants a secretary that dresses like “back in the day” and you have a much more contemporary outlook.

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Kelly February 18, 2009 at 4:05 pm

That’s beyond inappropriate, and I’m really surprised to hear anyone say that telling a woman to wear *short* skirts is like telling a man to wear a tie. Not so much. Maybe if a female boss asked a male employee to wear tighter pants, that’d be analaogous.

I agree with no skirts or long skirts only. Comments about your appearance should be met with either telling him to stop or referring to a dress code.

The law firm can, I’m sure, require all female employees to wear skirts, but I doubt anybody’d be dumb enough to put “short skirts” in a written dress code.

Either way, looking for a new job is a good idea.

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jaded hr rep February 18, 2009 at 4:10 pm

If this is a formal dress policy, then I would love to see the boss write it up and document it as such. Of course, anyone stupid enough to put “short skirt” in a dress policy is asking for trouble.

Either way, document document document (all the incidences of his making these comments), talk to him about the behavior (document this too), and see if he changes. If he retaliates, document that. You may have a full arsenal to take him for what he’s worth, if you end up losing your job or quitting.

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Anonymous February 18, 2009 at 7:58 pm

c’mon we all know this is how women get jobs in the first place. Come on all you hr people are always such company cronies why not be one now?

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Anonymous February 18, 2009 at 8:09 pm

Next time he says something, bruise your arms and face, tear your clothes, and report a sexual assault to the police. A class B felony calms folks right down.

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Anonymous February 18, 2009 at 9:36 pm

Try a water cooler conversation (with female colleague, in hearing of male boss) along the lines of “did you see that episode of Boston Legal where Denny Crane was making all those obnoxious sexual remarks to the young female associate, so she filed a sexual harrasment claim and the firm had to settle for a huge amount? The sad part about it was that Denny is so stupid, he can’t see that the world has changed and that what he is doing illegal, immoral and just plain wrong. It would be funny if it wasn’t so close to the truth. After all, the associate was young enought to be his grand-daughter. That’s creepy.” I can’t remember if that was the exact plot, but hey, it makes the point.

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Anonymous February 19, 2009 at 3:25 am

Sue the prick

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Anonymous February 19, 2009 at 3:27 am

He either has an eye for fashion or he is a sleazy creepy scumbag.

File a complaint with the US Equal Opportunity Commission

http://www.eeoc.gov/

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Kelkel February 19, 2009 at 8:17 pm

As a younger employee myself, and someone who wants to keep my job, I don’t think I’d threaten sexual harassment, especially at the type of firm where that guy can do as he likes, and fire who he wants, without question.

I think I would be more subtle about it, like asking if there is a documented dress policy to be aware of.

And no policy is going to say your skirt needs to be SHORTER even if you are required to wear a skirt.

I can’t believe he manages to actually suggest you wear a shorter skirt without it being totally obvious to everyone that it’s ridiculously inappropriate. Gross.

Also, look for a new job? I mean, you can fight the guy, but in the end, you’ll be working in a small office with someone who probably will hate you at that point, and that you don’t like working with either.

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Infamous HR Guy February 19, 2009 at 11:28 pm

Time to find a new job as none of the answers lead to a good outcome, unless you ask him to stop and he happens to be a kind old man.

It’s true you could sue, any attorney would jump at a case like this. You do need to tell him to stop and how it makes you feel. Like EHRL said, document, document document (Three D’s of HR…lol).

Note: A sexual harassment lawsuit could take as long as 3-5 years (especially in California) unless he’s a smart attorney and settles (highly likely). So like I said above, a new job seems to be on your horizon.

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she said: February 20, 2009 at 12:18 am

Suck it up – or find a new job. Lots of old dudes get creepy this way. I’d love to know why. But, they do.

If an attractive 20 year old said the same thing it would be flattery – but guys never seem to figure out it gets creepy as they get older.

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Anonymous February 21, 2009 at 6:25 pm

Does it end with comments about skirt length or does it move on to little pats and then a request to stay behind for some important work that has to be done tonight?

This man is old enough and educated enough to know exactly what he’s doing- using his position to behave inappropriately and unprofessionally towards a very young junior.

If this isn’t a control issue (sexual misconduct), then the ‘Do not comment on my clothing choices’ conversation will end with an apology and no further comments.

Bet it doesn’t, but let us know please.

I agree with those who say- start looking for another job.

Lois Gory

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John February 22, 2009 at 12:18 am

Put him out to pasture with the rest of the Dinosaurs.

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Anonymous February 22, 2009 at 2:05 am

One word of caution, since the law firm is small it may not have 15 employees so the EEOC would have no jurisdiction and she would have no claim for sexual harassment under Title VII. Depending on what state she is in, she might have state law protection, but should check first before thinking that she is automatically protected.

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Elizabeth February 22, 2009 at 10:14 pm

Thebe’s advice is the best. Pleasant refusal to wear the skirts, or start wearing longer skirts, which thwart his purposes.

And start looking for another job, because a lawyer who is willing to behave this way is fairly suspect and will no doubt find other ways to act up.

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CalEmplEsq February 23, 2009 at 2:53 am

As a lawyer, he should be held to a higher standard. What he’s doing is likely sexual harassment, and definitely sex discrimination (and, I AM an employment lawyer).

Evil HR Lady’s advice, however, has value. You hope for the best (he stops), but you prepare for the worst (you have to sue). So, talk to him. Document your conversations and his statements. If you can, have a witness. This protects you — and frankly, is advice that benefits HR (tho, not in your case) as well. If a boss is clearly breaking the law, and there’s good evidence, then management and HR will have a much easier time of taking on the boss than if its a he said/she said situation.

Whatever you do, contact the EEOC (or, your state agency) for employment counseling. You don’t have to file a claim, but you should get educated about your rights and options.

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Anonymous February 23, 2009 at 8:12 am

Frankly, we would really need to see a picture of the woman in question–preferably in a nice, short skirt–before being able to make a reasonable assessment of the situation.

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Anonymous February 27, 2009 at 11:38 pm

I agree with the majority of comments above – tell him it is inappropriate and document, prepare for the worst. But, how about suggesting HE wear a short skirt?

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Anonymous March 2, 2009 at 4:36 am

That sucks but i say use it to your advantage and when he thinks he has you in the palm of his hand (or bed) pull the rig out from under him. I’m not going to say that as a guy I don’t like short skirts (not wearing them of course) but I think what I hate the most is people who abuse their power. my take is yes I love when my female underlings wear skirts but I would never ever tell them that they had to do so just to please my sick fantasies. (and they are sick)

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Anonymous May 6, 2009 at 6:58 pm

Or you could just wear the short skirt. You’re not going to change his attitude.

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Anonymous July 6, 2010 at 1:14 am

When you went to the interview, did you wear slacks?

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Anonymous July 14, 2010 at 8:36 pm

This may offend some people, but here's my $0.02 worth. Wear skirts. Short ones. Your boss will love you, you'll look smart, professional and feminine, and no-one's going to die just because you can't wear pants or long skirts any more.

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