Ok, I don’t know what to do.
My boss called me into her office as I was heading home. It was 2 hours past time for me to leave, but I stayed to help her do monthly reports. She had me sit in the chair closest to her in her office and she shut the door. She told me that she is changing my dress code and along with this I need to change my bra to one that is more supportive. I am currently pumping at work because my baby is 9 mo old. I only pump one time on the clock but management has been jerks about this from the start.
I can’t wear a tight bra, but my bra certainly is supportive. She then made comments about my hair and lack of jewelry. She then said that I also smelled bad. She said she knew I was homely and earthy but then asked if I wore deodorant!!! I said yes! Then she made me tell her what kind. This was the most humiliating conversation I have ever had. Can my employer mandate the type of bra I wear? She literally told me to go to Victoria secret to get fitted and talked to me like I have never worn a bra before. Humiliating! She then stood up and made me give her a hug…. A hug!! I was furious. What should I do?
I’d like the answer to be, “Your boss is a horrible jerk! You should report her to HR and her boss and notify the papers!” But, that’s not actually the correct answer. The correct answer depends on a whole heck of a lot of variables.
Is she normally a nice person? This actually means a lot, because if she is normally a nice person, she truly believes you need the help and advice she’s offered you. Nice people don’t like to tell people that their bras don’t fit right and that they smell bad. If she’s a nice person, the hug at the end was to assure you that she thinks you’re a great person and you just need to change a few things.
Obviously, you didn’t take it that way. I wouldn’t either. I don’t care for hugging, and I wouldn’t handle it well if my boss told me to get a new bra and then hugged me. Frankly, I’d be creeped out. But, if she’s nice, you need to consider the following:
- You may actually need a different bra. Nursing can do strange things to your body. A 9-month-old is probably eating quite a bit of solid food, so you may be going through some shape changes and your current bra really doesn’t fit. You also may be losing that pregnancy weight and, like me, the first area to shrink is the area I don’t want want to shrink. Seriously, couldn’t my behind shrink instead?
- You may smell. Let’s talk hormones! Okay, I’m not a doctor, but I am observant. As your hormones change, your sweat may change and the deodorant you’ve used for years may stop working.
- Are hair and jewelry important? You didn’t say what it is you do, but those things can be very important in some jobs and completely irrelevant in others. If you’re the person selling high end makeup in a department store and you’re not wearing any makeup now, this can be a huge problem. On the other hand, if your job involves sitting in a cube and writing emails and you never talk to other humans face to face, this would be a ridiculous thing.
So, if she’s a nice person, and it’s possible that she’s correct, the best thing to do is buy a new bra, change brands of deodorant and change your hairdo.
Is she normally a jerk? What if she’s constantly critical? What if she’s annoyed that you take time out to pump. (The laws around pumping at work are pretty stupid. If you’re exempt, you aren’t entitled to pumping time.) What if she’s still bitter that you took FMLA time and would prefer to have someone there who didn’t have to worry about a baby? Then it’s a different ballgame.
First, you need to consider that even jerks can be right. Evaluate your bra, your deodorant, and your appearance. If they need fixing, then swallow your pride and fix them and let it go–even if she is a jerk.
But, if you evaluate all that and she’s just flat out wrong, Then you can go back to her and say, “Jane, I double checked my bras, and they fit properly. I don’t smell bad. My hair and makeup are the same today as they’ve been the whole time I’ve worked here. Can you explain why you brought this up now?”
Let her answer. If her answer isn’t an apology, it’s time to bring HR into it. Explain what happened and ask for their advice. Explain that, in addition, you’ve received a lot of criticism for pumping (and please state from whom), and that that is inappropriate (or violates laws, depending on where you live and what your status is). Regardless of the law, pumping once a day on the clock should be no big deal. People spend more time on Facebook.
A note to managers. The time to bring up dress code problems is when they first appear–not after someone has a baby, breaks a leg, or gets diagnosed with cancer. If you wait to address a problem, chances are something will happen that will make bringing it up look suspect.