Originally Published: May 19, 2018 6:01 a.m.
Dear Annie: I work at a small office that employs all women. Most, including me, are older than 50. Over a year ago, one of my co-workers had a double mastectomy. Over the year, we all were very supportive and helpful to her. Last week, I was summoned into the boss’s office to be told that this employee is having serious emotional stress because my attire reminds her that she no longer has breasts. I was dismayed because I do not wear low-cut or tight-fitting tops. I have a large bustline, which gives me little options for blouses and the like.
I asked my boss what I should wear. She said, “I would prefer you wear muumuu-type clothing from now on.” I said I would not change my clothing.
Now the employee breaks down in tears every day. My boss and the other ladies barely speak to me at all. I have been at this company for over 16 years. What should I do? I can’t help my bust size. — Workplace Drama
Dear Workplace Drama: I’m not sure how your boss could have handled this situation less professionally. Your co-worker is clearly in emotional distress, but it’s not your fault. Your manager should have worked with her to determine what assistance or accommodations she needed. Instead, your boss reinforced the idea that you’re to blame, which is as incorrect as it is inappropriate.
As long as you’re wearing clean, workplace-appropriate clothes and following the dress code, there’s absolutely no reason for your manager to tell you to dress differently. And she definitely shouldn’t make you feel as though your body type is a problem. That crosses the line and may even qualify as harassment.
If you have a human resources department, email the HR manager a statement about what happened and ask for a meeting to discuss how to resolve it. If you don’t have HR, filing a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is an option (https://www.eeoc.gov). You could also request your supervisor enlist the help of an employee assistance program.
Regardless of what avenues you might pursue in filing a complaint, know that you’re in the right and there’s nothing you need to do except continue to show up and do your job, just as you always have.
Dear Annie: The letter from “Older and Wiser” broke my heart. In case she is reading this column, I would like to say to her:
You are a strong woman. I hope you know that. If you can’t change your living arrangements, please focus on you. You can’t change anyone else, but you have the power to love yourself, and know that you are worthy. Get yourself out of the house as much as you can. Find other strong women to be a tribe with. Volunteer at your local hospital or animal shelter. Focusing on yourself is the best defense to being beaten down and made to feel nonexistent. I wish you the best of luck. -- Supporter in the South
Dear Supporter in the South: I have a feeling your warmth and wisdom will touch many hearts. Thanks for sharing.
“Ask Me Anything: A Year of Advice From Dear Annie” is out now! Annie Lane’s debut book — featuring favorite columns on love, friendship, family and etiquette — is available as a paperback and e-book. Visit http://www.creatorspublishing.com for more information. Send your questions for Annie Lane to email@example.com.