Going bra-less at work?
By Jodie Hill – Thrive Law
A recent comment on a forum sparked the debate as to whether it should be unlawful to not wear a bra at work and how far should employers go when enforcing their dress code guidelines. At the core of this conversation is women’s rights in the workplace. This is because traditionally, the idea of needing to wear a bra to look professional wouldn’t affect male workers. Assuming this debate is used in an office setting, the way you dress is a large factor in presenting yourself as professional and smart. However, the argument of feeling comfortable in the workplace definitely can’t be avoided. In a point raised by the commenter on the NetMums forum she questioned:
“In 2018 would I get in bother if I didn’t wear a bra at work?
I just find them uncomfortable.” This is a valid point and begs the question as to whether someone being forced to wear a bra at work is for the comfort of others and not herself.
How much is too much? What if the top is completely covered but its sheer? What if there’s huge cleavage but not nipples?
This highlights the problematic view of sexualising women and their bodies and what should be taboo to have ‘on show’. This is because we have been exposed to women and their breasts being used in movies, magazines and advertising in order to sell certain things. However, it’s quite comedic that it’s never okay to show the whole boob as this will lead to censorship. Ultimately, this has engrained an idea in our minds that seeing a woman’s breasts has to be taken in a sexual way or an attempt at getting attention. But at the end of the day, everyone has nipple’s, right?
Even though the argument could be made that a lot of people (male and female) have to abide by certain codes of their job such as not wearing piercings or having visible tattoos, this isn’t a reliable argument on its own when it comes to gender equality in the workplace. An example of such discrimination is reception worker Nicola Thorp, who was sent home for not wearing a high enough heel which hit the headlines not that long ago. If we’re speaking based on gender conventions, I wonder if the same company would send a man home for not wearing a long enough tie. Is this even the same?
We also must consider the profession that this rule could apply to. If a woman decides to come into the office without a bra and her shirt shows the shape of her breasts, then people are going to notice she is not wearing a bra. However, if a woman works on a building site and wears a high visibility jacket and no bra underneath, her colleagues would be none the wiser. Here is a great example of blaming a woman for another co-worker getting certain thoughts for example.
The world in which we live in and the media especially likes to blame the woman in sexual assault or harassment cases purely because they have the idea that she is ‘asking for it.’ This once again enforces the notion that a woman has to be uncomfortable or change herself to suit everyone else. With a society that feeds this into girl’s minds from a very young age, it will no doubt contribute to mental health and self-esteem problems later down the line. With large scale feminist movements such as #freethenipple taking place in our generation, I think it may be about time that we change our societal ideas of something so small as a work dress code. Don’t you?
So what should employers do?
This goes back to the dress code policy and ensuring that:
1. It is clearly defined of what is and isn’t ‘appropriate’ in the workplace and why.
2. They can be objectively justify dress code policies
3. They have regard for religions and disabilities as well as sex when enforcing rules to avoid claims for indirect discrimination.
If you want us to review your policies or want to have your say on this issue please get in in touch.