What is or isn’t appropriate attire when it comes to the workplace depends on the industry and the company culture. Your perceived professionalism varies depending on who is judging you.
But one woman was left stunned when she got a request from her employer that made her very uncomfortable.
In a post to the r/jobs subreddit, a woman started by saying, “I have been told by my higher ups at work that I am not allowed to come to work without a bra on.” She explained that she usually wears a sports bra to work but that there are times when she doesn’t wear any bra at all. Still, she can’t understand why her employer is up in arms about what she chooses to do with her breasts.
She makes sure she wears loose-fitting clothing that totally covers her body. On days she doesn’t wear a bra, the woman said she wears shirts that go all the way up to her collarbone and doesn’t think there is anything inappropriate or vulgar about her appearance.
According to her, she has an average-sized chest and doesn’t seem to think it draws attention from her co-workers. She also clarified that there is no official dress code at her job outside of wearing pants, boots, and high-visibility vests when out in the field.
The combative worker asks Redditors, “Are they allowed to require this, especially since it isn't in writing anywhere and doesn't affect the men I work with?”
Is it legal for your employer to make you wear a bra?
The answer is yes… and no. When it comes to dress codes and workplace policy, generally they can be enforced if they are not discriminatory. This means that the rules have to apply to all employees who are in the same or similar position or circumstances.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 states that it is illegal for any employer to discriminate against employees based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. So, technically, if women are required to wear bras in the workplace, so, too, would men.
With that said, employers can enforce gender-specific dress codes in the workplace. For instance, men might be expected to wear a suit and tie, while women are advised to wear skirts paired with high heels to their jobs.
The key is that the reasoning behind the dress code must be non-discriminatory.
There can also be discrimination within one gender. For instance, a woman with small breasts might not be asked to cover them with a bra, while a larger-chested woman might be.
So, if women are asked to wear certain undergarments simply because the men at work can’t help but stare when she doesn’t, it would be discrimination. But if an employer lays out gender-specific rules for hygiene, or workplace safety purposes, the policy could be considered legal and enforceable. A general rule that employees’ nipples cannot be visible through their clothing would be legal but might disproportionately impact women because theirs are more likely to be visible without a bra.
If a bra policy is implemented at a business, there should be exceptions. If there is a medical reason that an accommodation needs to be made, you should always do it. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) dictates that employers are required to make reasonable accommodations when an employee has a documented medical condition or disability.
But if demanding that women wear bras is strictly because you as an employer think the men in your company cannot control themselves in the presence of braless boobs, perhaps your problem is about people and not policy.
NyRee Ausler is a writer and author from Seattle, Washington. She covers issues navigating the workplace using the experience garnered over two decades of working in Human Resources and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.
This article originally appeared on YourTango