my employee’s clothes accentuate her chest — how do I talk to her about it?

A reader writes:

I am a fairly new manager and I recently got a new, young subordinate. We work in a nonprofit and the dress code is very relaxed. We often only wear t-shirts and jeans, and even shorts won’t raise eyebrows if it’s very hot.

However, I have come across an issue with the new hire. She has a very big chest and she likes to wear tank tops, which make her chest area very pronounced. I really didn’t give it much thought, until I was approached by our client who made several remarks about it. In short span time, this happened three times — with three different clients of different gender and ages. It rattled me to listen to an older lady laugh about “big boobs of your new colleague.” One male client even picked up her video call completely naked waist up, which he never did to me, and I am worried it’s connected, since he is one of those who talked about it.

I always try to shut it down quickly and I told the naked client he must always be clothed for video calls, but I am at loss how to address it with my subordinate. I brought it up and she got offended and said it’s unfair because she is big chested and it was hot. I don’t want to penalize her for her body (I am a woman as well and I know it sucks), but I doubt the client’s remarks will stop if this continues, since they come from a very specific community which is known for being direct.

You can’t have different dress codes by body type. You can have dress code rules like “no visible cleavage,” but you can’t tell someone she can’t wear tank tops if they’re generally allowed by your dress code.

If the issue isn’t cleavage but just that the shape of her body is visible — well, she has a larger chest. It’s going to show in a lot of clothing because that’s her body.

On the other hand, if  she’s dressing in a way that is inappropriate for your workplace and would be inappropriate regardless of her body shape, then sure, you can talk to her about that like you would any other dress code problem. And having a clear, written dress code makes that easier, since then you can simply say, “We actually don’t allow tank tops on their own — we require sleeves or a layer worn over them.” (Make sure you’re enforcing it across the board though, not just for her.)

But if tank tops are allowed on other people and the issue is “it’s really clear you have big boobs and we want you to dress to hide them” … no.

I understand that your concern is the way clients are responding, but that’s an issue with those clients. You need to shut that down immediately and firmly — with something like, “Please don’t make comments like that about our staff’s bodies.” (It sounds like you’re already doing that, which is good.) Note, too, that you have a legal obligation to protect your employee from sexual harassment by clients, and you need to pay particular attention to what might else be going on with that topless guy.

But if your employee is adhering to your dress code, please don’t make clients’ comments her problem. Address it with the people making the comments; their behavior is the issue, not the fact that people can tell a woman has larger breasts.

Read an update to this letter

{ 547 comments… read them below }

  1. Oh No She Di'int*

    One male client even picked up her video call completely naked waist up

    Wait… what?! Thank you OP for shutting that down.

        1. Tabby*

          “Since your employee has less self control than the average twelve year old boy (I have yet to meet one who would do something THAT egregious — giggle nervously, maybe stare in fascination,but NOT removing clothing!), we are unable to continue working with him/her/them.”

          1. Laura*

            Interesting. I made an assumption, because of a number of friends who work in various nonprofits where they work with people who have developmental disabilities or who are non-neurotypical. These people are referred to as clients, and so I made an assumption about the client in this case.

            That doesn’t mean it’s right for them to do this, just the assumption I made.

            1. Hapless Bureaucrat*

              I also made the assumption this nonprofit provides caseworker services of some sort, especially with the dress code and as the LW later refers to the client base as coming from a “community known for being direct.”
              And yes, if that’s the case they can’t really fire the client. They MAY be able to re-refer them. Or they may be handling clients on behalf of a government agency, which gives them less discretion. It’s not impossible to get rid of clients, but it’s a different process.

            2. ???*

              I worked with individuals with disabilities and this was also my assumption. While I agree a person shouldn’t be penalized for their natural body, the reality might require that the employee not wear tank tops. Just because this client community may have impulse control or other behavioral issues, so telling them to not make comments is really only so effective. They’re a “client’ in the sense that they use the nonprofit’s service, and often really can’t be booted from the client list. Harassment from clients was a big reason I left my old job, but really there was very little the employer could do to help. The individuals were emergency referrals from the state and already on behavior plans. Sometimes just changing the way you dress is all you can do.

              1. Clorinda*

                If the clientele can’t handle seeing tank tops, then there needs to a a dress code–the same dress code for everyone. But this woman is going to be as well-endowed in a turtleneck as in a tank top.

                1. Cool and the Gang*

                  Exactly. The problem here I think is that they allow anything-goes with regard to dress. Tank tops can be problematic for several different reasons for all genders.
                  Once you do that, you can’t make one person not wear it because that outfit looks different on their particular body type.

              2. TardyTardis*

                I’ve noticed in TV shows, and in real life, that skinny women can wear their buttoned shirts Down To There, while buxom women cannot, at least not in professional settings. Yes, we shouldn’t take our cues from TV, but sadly so many people do.

                And so women who are generally feeling the heat more because more body weight have to cover up more and sweat because of that. (granted, I’m used to working in the office where I had to wear longjohns to the office in summer because Geraldo thinks it’s too hot…).

                1. Ethel*

                  Actually, TV shows never show the awkward angles that real people deal with in life that make most button front shirts, much less those undone “down to there”, so hard to wear for women of all sizes. Even small chested women have gaping between buttons when moving or peekaboos from the top. I’m average and have given up with them except with liberal use of double sided tape, which is annoying.

            3. Luckyducky*

              Ugh this reminds me of a conversation I had with my coworker this morning. She’s a curvy lady and she was trying to determine if a new top she got with a cutout was against the dress code. From what she described to me, it seemed like there should be an issue considering that where the cutout is located doesn’t leave anything particularly scandalous uncovered.Anyway, she decided to go to the source and ask our boss. Our boss said it was not allowed for XYZ reason. When my coworker pointed out that a coworker in another department had been wearing something similar several times this summer our boss told her “yeah but [coworker] doesnt have anything to see and you do”. When I heard that, my discrimination alarm bells were going off all over the place.

              1. Weighted Owl*

                Yes! This is my Ugh too. I think the OP is mostly right but I don’t think she should raise this with her employee to get her to dress differently. If the clients are a population that tends to speak without filters then presumably they’d do that for any physical difference. If the employee had much lighter or darker skin than other people in the office or bright red hair or a mole or birthmark, it would follow that this population might comment on it. I think that when it’s a woman’s breasts that are noticeable there’s an unconscious bias that she should “fix” it. I get that breasts distract many people but that’s… their lookout. If the judgement is that the employee shouldn’t be paired with certain folks because of continual harassment, that’s a different discussion. But she shouldn’t have to adhere to any standards others aren’t held to.

      1. Triplestep*

        “Hello client? Yes, we no longer want your business or the oodles of money it brings into our non-profit. That’s right, you have one very clueless employee and even though I addressed the problem directly with him, we’ve decided we can afford to do without your whole company. Yes, that’s right … based on this one guy. Goodbye”

        1. Don*

          Minimizing the idea of protecting your employees and women in general from the inappropriate behavior of others is not a good look. Adding a layer of “well we need to think about the money before we have integrity” is super gross.

            1. Hoya Lawya*

              Out of curiosity, suppose this client represented, say, 25% of revenues booked by the organization. Suppose that the loss of a key client meant that the organization had to consider layoffs.

              Would you be giving a “+1” if you were one of the persons laid off?

              There are other, least-means ways of addressing the situation before discontinuing the entire client relationship.

                1. KRM*

                  The only other mean I can think of assumes that this dude represents a client with more people working. Therefore, at the very least, they need to take this dude off the account and put someone with maturity onto it. IMO the client should also consider training, or preferably firing this dude from their firm.
                  That’s it. If you’re a single client that’s 25% of my revenue but you sexually harass my staff, then I guess it’s gonna be a hard year.

              1. Oh No She Di'int*

                I was going to say something similar. There’s probably a setting somewhere between 0 and 10 here. Something like: “Hello, client? We’d like to request that someone else be put on this account.” etc. A firm and definitive reaction is called for, but OP’s organization doesn’t have to begin with the most extreme option.

                1. Nic*

                  Agreed. Call his boss (or his company’s HR) and request a new liaison – and tell them exactly why. He showed up inappropriately dressed (i.e. undressed!) to a video meeting with your employee, who he had previously made sexually-suggestive remarks about. You don’t want this one individual’s attempt at harassment to affect your company’s relationship with their company, but you’re sure that they understand why you’d like a more professional representative in future meetings.

              2. Observer*

                Legally and morally it doesn’t much matter how much of the revenue this person brings in. The fact is that the OP has an absolute obligation to stop the harassment, and they CANNOT do it by penalizing the employee.

                So, yes, ONE warning is acceptable. But once that happens, if it does not stop, then the employer really does not have a choice.

                1. Katieinthemountains*

                  Well, OP’s company can do the switch on their end: someone, anyone, other than this poor girl has to call Mr. Naked.

                2. Reemie*

                  Kate in the Mountains my thoughts exactly. Have someone else face time w/ the pervert. The employee is not at fault for this.

              3. surprisedcanuk*

                I think this is a very unlikely scenario. He’s probably just some guy receiving a free or highly subsidized salary. Do you really think he’s some really important person that has no one above him and is giving them tons of money. That’s the only situation where you might have a difficult decision. If he has a boss he’s getting in a lot trouble and if he some important donor do you really think he would risk his reputation.

              4. Nephron*

                1. If a single client is that essential it sounds like management needs to figure out a way to diversify clients or they are in a precarious position financially. What if that company folds? Or finds someone new?

                2. A very likely scenario now with internet backlash would be someone finding out about the sexual harassment of by big client, it going viral and some portion of your other 75% of bookings being driven off by boycotts.

              5. Archaeopteryx*

                Harvey Weinstein brought a lot of money to his company too. Until he didn’t. Protecting your employees doesn’t involve weighing the cost of the harassment versus the cost of doing the right thing.

              6. Hiring Mgr*

                Well anytime one client accounts for a significant portion of revenue, you’re always walking a tightrope.

          1. Artemesia*

            bankruptcy is not a good look either. It may come to loss of the client when the OP properly shuts down this in appropriate behavior and a next step if naked guy doesn’t shape up would be asking that he not represent the client in work with you. But keeping clients is central to success in business and you don’t fire them over a couple of jerks without taking several more steps.

            And while this particular woman’s appearance may have provoked the thought about the dress code, a tank top without overshirt is taking ‘casual pretty far’ and requiring more covering especially in the age of zoom is not necessarily a terrible idea. I am not sure a guy in a tank top is really appropriate for presenting a business that is not a resort or other outdoor venue.

            And you know shirtless guy is going to be making reference to not wearing pants soon — at that point, I’d escalate to his boss about the pattern.

            1. LGC*

              To be fair, men in sleeveless tops in general are often considered unprofessional (unless you’re an athlete or something).

              I think a lot of people are thinking this is an individual client, which is why they’re willing to yeet him into the sun. And if he’s just one guy, then…yeah, it’s definitely worth losing that client. If he represents a larger organization, then I’m more inclined to agree with you. It’s not clear from the letter and I haven’t read all the comments yet, though!

            2. Jojo*

              A tanktop is just a t shirt with no sleeves. And other employees wear tanktops. Just because she has big boobs is no reason she cannot wear the same clothes the rest of the employees wear. The client is at fault here for sexually harassing her by answering the video call nude and by his gross mouth.

              1. Mookie*

                Yeah, I don’t quite follow the OP’s logic. When somebody plays grabass, it’s proof the ass-grabbed’s ass had it coming? It must be the victim’s responsibility? A client who decides someone he finds nice to look at is totally in the clear for trying something on like this? Fair play to him, the chesticles were too hypnotizing? His nips and pecs are not to be commented on, but her fully clothed chest is too distracting?

            3. Reemie*

              I was thinking a about how some zoom meetings are being held on youtube, like at my circuit court that holds sentencing and probation violations (I’m a probation officer). I wonder if announcing to shirtless guy that his company/account is now available for all other clients/benefactors to see from now on to keep all records public and honest. See if that takes the fire out.
              Either way, the manager has a duty to protect her employee from letches. Have someone else deal with him. I’ve seen it before in stores and restaurants where the manager steps in and handles them. This should be no different.

          2. Triplestep*

            @Don I am not minimizing anything other than the idea that non-profits, small businesses, freelancers, etc, can simply turn down business based on the actions of what may be one jerky creep within their ranks. The LW already spoke to the jerky creep, the next step might be to speak to the organization and get a different representative. Not jump to “Fire that client!”

        2. Keymaster of Gozer*

          “Hello client? That employee you routinely get to manage your communication with us? Well he’s harrassing a member of my staff and we are no longer prepared to deal with him. Please assign someone who knows how to behave like an adult”

            1. Keymaster of Gozer*

              I had exactly that conversation with a client once. Their employee kept hassling one of my help desk staff, telling her she was ‘too attractive to be in IT’ and ‘women don’t know about computers anyway’.

              That guy was banned from ever contacting us again.

          1. Triplestep*

            Yes, this. LW has already taken the first step by adressing shirtless jerk, but this is what should happen next. I am shaking my head over the many MANY calls to fire the client. Very unrealistic.

          2. Happily Self Employed*

            I don’t know if you’ve seen the thread where it seems the “client” is not a company represented by an employee who is being inappropriate. The “clients” are individuals receiving services, and apparently the conditions that qualify them to receive services affect their ability to filter their speech.

            Nevertheless, I think these clients need to hear that there are boundaries they need to respect. They can’t comment on (verbally or by other actions such as being shirtless) the service providers’ bodies in a sexual manner, race, etc. That’s not the same as “Wow, your hair is so red!” or “Is that a tattoo?!”

        3. Important Moi*

          Unfortunately, depending on the ethics of the business and management of the business, there is a possibility that the client won’t be fired.

          1. Hoya Lawya*

            There is not necessarily an ethical imperative to discontinue a client relationship because of the boorish activity of one employee. You can talk to the employee in question about professional norms. You can ask that the employee in question no longer represent the client before the organization.

            1. KRM*

              That does assume the client in question is a firm with other possible people to step in. But if it’s just this dude, you gotta drop him.

            2. JJ*

              Yeah, but if it WAS the common response to dump a client or fire an employee after one egregious harassment like this, then bad behavior would stop pretty quickly across the board. People are allowed to behave SO BADLY when they’re the ones bringing in all the money or clients. It’s not cool and we need to stop allowing that. People are more important than money.

              100% I would dump my biggest client (65% of my revenue) if he did this, because I could never feel comfortable working with him ever again.

              1. Arvolin*

                I agree in general, but the first company to get that principled is going to lose a lot of revenue, and, once the strictness gets established, the company that relaxes and gets away with it will be at an advantage. It’s really hard to establish a business practice that costs money, sometimes even when the law is very specific.

        4. Student*

          The OP should, at minimum, tell the client (boss of the naked guy) that they need to appoint a new POC for work with the OP’s business, because the current guy sexually harassed our employee and that’s unacceptable.

          If that’s not possible, then yes, the OP should weigh firing the client. They bring in some amount of money – but their behavior is bringing huge legal ($$$$$) liabilities to OP’s business, will cause the OP to have to deal with employee turnover ($$$) by driving off staff via sexual harassment. Plus, clients who are jerks to the extent that they show up to meetings naked are probably PITA clients in other areas – they may be substantially less profitable / efficient to work with than other clients.

          1. KoiFeeder*

            …Uh, I’m an idiot, what do you mean by POC here? Because I’m reasonably sure you’re not trying to say person of color.

        5. MissBliss*

          In my experience in the nonprofit world, “client” is way more likely to mean “one person receiving our services.” Unless I’m missing something in the letter, there probably aren’t any other people behind the scenes. Letting one client go is letting one person go. So… yeah. Based on one guy.

          1. Aquawoman*

            I’m going to +1 this because I think it is likely that their “clients” are service recipients, especially because they are not following professional norms and are described as a ‘very specific community.’ If so, I think correcting them is right and letting them go only after they fail to heed warnings.

            1. hufflepuff hobbit*

              I agree — for many nonprofits “client” is the equivalent of “customer” and may have needs the nonprofit is addressing. I’m in healthcare, and the line for “firing” a patient is pretty high

              1. Observer*

                It is. But this behavior is pretty close to it. And if it happens after a clear warning, it really does meet the hurdle (or it should.

              2. Happily Self Employed*

                Really? Because I’ve been fired as a patient after one incident of acting like an autistic person in their office.

              1. Clorinda*

                I had a student show up shirtless in a Google Meet class, and he’s got the whole IEP/504 thing. I just told him, we wear clothes just like regular school, and after that one reminder, he got it. If the clients are capable of logging in to a distant computer meeting and interacting, they know how to wear clothes.

          2. NJ Anon*

            I was about to say that. Out may not be a client in the same sense as a for profit. When I worked at a non profit, clients were people who received services.

          3. Artemesia*

            oh yeah — if by ‘client’ the OP meant the person receiving service and not an organization they are working with then this guy has had two warnings — next misstep, he is dropped.

          4. Some Cajun Queen*

            Right, I don’t refer to my funders as “clients.” They’re funders or donors. Clients are service recipients.

          5. KB*

            another +1 here. I’ve never worked in a nonprofit where a “client” was another business or organization. It’s always been individuals receiving services. If this happened with us, we would have a frank conversation with the client about boundaries, expectations, and appropriate behavior and tell them any consequences for violating boundaries again (suspension or exclusion from the program, likely).

            1. Student*

              I worked for many years in a non-profit where the word “clients” still means “people who pay us to provide a service to their organization”. I understand that this might be “client” in the sense of an individual who is receiving free or low-cost help from a non-profit – but the OP didn’t specify.

              I think that if the OP worked in a service where all of the clients are deeply mentally ill to the point where it would explain this, then the OP would’ve mentioned that context. Instead, the OP seems baffled by the behavior at hand, associates it more with client sexism than anything else, and is trying in good faith to figure out how to address it properly.

              Given the other context, and the info provided that the client has sufficient technology to join a teleconference call, I lean toward thinking the OP’s clients are more on the “at least average” scale of mental illness and financial means. I have known homeless people and people with severe mental impairments; most of them can’t afford the necessary equipment to hop on a video call.

              Some of the commenters are bending over backwards to assume, without any context from the OP to indicate so, that the sexual harasser must be either:
              *some poor, deeply impaired, desperate soul who can’t possibly keep his pants on long enough to talk to a service worker
              *some moneybags that the non-profit cannot possibly afford to affront by requiring he wear clothing when interacting with their staff
              To those commenters – you are part of the problem. You jumped and twisted yourselves into pretzels to invent justifications for the sexual harassment with no reason to do so. You are part of the reason women get sexually harassed; even if you never do it yourself, you are so very eager to look the other way when it happens that women give up on getting justice and fair treatment. This is simple – he’s committing very overt sexual harassment, that is illegal, and it has to stop. If he has some mitigating reason for it, then the OP would say so. Those mitigating circumstances are the EXCEPTION, though, so please stop acting like they are the RULE.

        6. Aquawoman*

          Hmm, interesting that you are choosing to assume that (1) client means donor rather than service recipient; (2) that donor is large and this one guy is just a functionary and not the whole enterprise or the CEO; (3) they provide oodles of money and (4) money is more important than human dignity. If #2 is right, I would agree that talking to the organization before firing them is correct. But IME you’re likely wrong about #1.

          1. MissBliss*

            Even if it IS, sexual harassment of development officers is a big deal in this field (where many big dollar donors are men and many gift officers are women). I will always, always, always be grateful for my first development director who, when I was working a golf tournament at the age of 20 and getting uncomfortable questions from a tipsy foursome, asked me “Are they making you uncomfortable? If they are, you can tell them to buzz off, or you can call me. You don’t have to put up with that.”

            Organizations, can, _do_, and /should/, sever relationships with donors that behave unethically.

            1. Some Cajun Queen*

              YUP. In one job, I had to meet with the head of a foundation who was a notorious lech. Despite meeting with him in a crowded restaurant during the day, he insisted on ordering multiple drinks for me (I politely sipped one and declined the other), rubbed his knee against mine under the table, and asked me to join him later that evening. Even though the funding would have been substantial, my boss put the kibosh on us meeting with him again.

        7. surprisedcanuk*

          I think this is a very unlikely scenario. He’s probably just some guy receiving a free or highly subsidized salary. He’s not Bill Gates giving them big money. Otherwise great TMZ story.

        8. Oxford Comma*

          Or you contact the client and report the employee who was naked from the waist up on the call and ask for a different person to represent the client from now on.

        9. Nanani*

          Actually yes, protecting your employees from sexual harassment even when it costs money IS the right thing to do.

          1. Triplestep*

            The point is it doesn’t necessarily have to cost money. There are many possibilities between “do nothing” (which absolutely no one is suggesting) and “Fire the client!”

        10. JSPA*

          Nonprofits that are on the social service-y end of the spectrum often use “client” to mean, “person making use of our services.” Not, “other organization from whom we get money.”

          I took from the presentation that the one guy is “the client” in that sense. Not a random employee of a large client.

          If he’s a contact of a large client, not “the client,” then there are additional layers of “notifying his manager,”or “asking to have a different contact if this continues.”

          But if he’s getting help from the nonprofit, or if it’s a mutual thing (he’s in need of a stream cleanup, they organize stream cleanups), “not even a hint of impropriety from you will be tolerated further” is entirely fine.

          That said, if it’s hot enough in your office that your people are in tank tops, it could be 20 degrees warmer wherever he is. Better no shirt than heatstroke. But there’s no temperature level that makes “talking about someone’s chest” medically indicated.

          1. Happily Self Employed*

            If it’s too hot to wear clothes, turn off your camera. I had quite a few meetings as a volunteer while my AC was not working during a heatwave where I was wearing a sports bra as a top and my video was off. If I had to introduce myself, I just got close enough to the camera that all anyone could see was a big face and the top of my shoulders with straps that could’ve been a top.

        11. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          Once, a colleague of mine was being hassled by a potential client. Not harassed, just being rude about the product and making generally unpleasant remarks, like she’d called him all of two minutes late.
          She put him on loudspeaker at one point and her boss listened in. Then suddenly he grabbed the phone off of her and shouted that the potential client was not ever to speak to any of his staff like that again, he didn’t care if they never got an order from his company, and hung up on the guy.
          The order came in a few days later, from that guy’s boss.
          So no, standing up to nasty people doesn’t necessarily mean you don’t get to do business with the company they work for.

        12. Luke*

          Organizations should (and have!) terminated profitable clients who disrespect their staff. Money does not entitle clients to bypass human decency.

      2. Ruthie*

        Its possible client here refers to someone receiving a service from the organization or business rather than a customer. In which case it’s not as easy as deciding they don’t want their business.

        1. whocanpickone*

          This is how I read it as well. It is common to refer to people who receive services as “clients”.

        2. Alpacas Are Not Dairy Animals*

          Right, especially if the reason the client base is ‘known for being direct’ is because they’re e.g. developmentally disabled or suffering from some form of dementia.

        3. Jack Be Nimble*

          I read the letter the same way! Depending on the nature of the non-profit, it’s very possible that the client is someone who, for whatever reason, doesn’t have good judgment or a solid sense of professional/social norms. The OP’s response of setting the boundary and laying out expectations might be the extent of an appropriate response to the client.

        4. JSPA*

          Actually, harassment (like threats) will get your ass dumped from access to any number of services.

          You may well be entitled to the service, in the abstract; you’re not entitled to access the service via someone whom you’re harassing.

          I’ve taken friends to sign up for services, or update their information. There are signs stating that you must have shoes, a shirt, not use profanity, not yell, not sit on the floor (and a bunch of other Do’s and Don’ts) or else you will not be served, and will be asked to leave.

          1. Jack Be Nimble*

            That’s the case for a lot of services, but I think there are others (usually catering to other populations) that might have different standards. If, for example, you’re working with teenagers with behavioral disorders, a certain amount of disorderly behavior is to be expected. That doesn’t mean you tell the staff to suck it up and take whatever abuse and harassment is thrown their way, but it means that institutional and individual reactions are calibrated differently.

            I think it’s reasonable to assume that LW works in some kind of service field, but I don’t know if we can assume too much about the norms of that field.

            1. Happily Self Employed*

              I think they need to draw the line at harassment, unless they’re working with people who are really non compos mentis. In that case, if someone has a history of doing sexually inappropriate things if they’re attracted to the staff, assign them someone they’re not going to be interested in. Likewise, if they’re going to call a Black staff member a N-word, don’t assign them a Black staff member.

      3. Jack Be Nimble*

        This is supposition, but I assumed, reading the letter, that the non-profit is a public service working directly with the public. My specific assumption (not sure why!) was that the OP is managing caseworkers that work with unemployed people or unhoused people.

        If the ‘client’ is someone receiving services from the non-profit, it may not be possible to ‘fire’ them for a one-time transgression. I am not at all minimizing the inappropriateness of the naked client’s actions, but depending on the population you’re working with, it might be really reasonable to give that person a clear warning before telling them to seek services elsewhere.

      4. Maria*

        Y’all know that in the non-profit world “client” doesn’t usually mean “fancy word for paying customer” but rather “fancy word for someone we are serving using grant and/or government funding”, right?

    1. Zombeyonce*

      He seems to have zero shame because he’s talking about her chest size with her boss, which seems beyond the line of any kind of polite conversation. Maybe the employee reported his nudity to LW and he thinks it’s an excuse. Which makes it even worse, really, if he thought that the size of her (clothed) chest somehow made it okay for him to not wear clothes. LW, I’m glad you shut that down, but I’m side eyeing you for “worrying it’s connected”, which gives credence to these clients ideas that the size of your employees breasts has anything to do with the work she does.

      Imagine that instead of breasts that they were talking about a giant goiter on her neck. It’s there, it’s obvious, it’s potentially distracting, and she can’t do anything about it but maybe wear turtlenecks. Would you let clients complain about it? Would you make her follow a dress code no one else has to follow? No, you’d scoff at anyone suggesting it affected her work and not say a thing to her about it (especially that older woman client who was unkindly laughing about it; I’m sure your employee doesn’t appreciate people mocking her body to her boss). This is the same thing.

      1. Librarian of SHIELD*

        It’s only connected in the sense that guys like this client feel entitled to the female bodies they’re attracted too. It’s 100% a That Guy problem, and I’m glad OP laid down the rules for him. But if they haven’t contacted this man’s supervisor yet, that needs to be done yesterday. If he’s not a solo practitioner, the person/people in charge of him need to be made aware of the depth and breadth of his inappropriate behavior.

      2. Tabby*

        ESPECIALLY THE OLDER WOMAN. I expect better out of women, perhaps because we as women KNOW how difficult it is to get good clothes, and how we can’t control breast size. Why would you willingly shame another woman for something she can’t control?

        I can never find clothes that don’t emphasize my wide hips and big butt, unless I want to wear muumuu, which I don’t. So, if clothes fit properly, you’re gonna see my badonkadonk donk. That’s just how my body works, unfortunately for the pearl clutchers. Now,this doesn’t mean I go around wearing the sexiest clothing I can find! This just means I buy what fits my body, and shrug off the idea that I should pick something baggy (which looks really bad on my very rubanesque body) to please some obnoxious rule about women’s bodies.

        1. Keymaster of Gozer*

          I did have one boss suggest I wear muumuus as ‘you’re not built for tailored clothing’.

          Yeah, I’m fat and have big hips and huge ‘system attributes’ but I’m not gonna hide under drapes of fabric all day just because my weight or size or shape offends anyone.

          Dress professionally at work? Absolutely, no issue. Whatever the rules across the board I’ll follow without complaint. Try to make different rules for ‘larger ladies’? Get to find out how rude we IT staff can get when crossed.

          1. GothicBee*

            Yes! It’s so important that companies make sure to adhere to whatever dress code across the board. I’ve found that a lot of places will have a dress code, but will do this thing where they don’t enforce it 100% of the time under the guise of “We’ll address it if it becomes a problem”. But that just means that the only people who get told to change what they wear are the bigger people with noticeable curves. I don’t have curves and I’ve absolutely seen people get told off for wearing stuff that’s less showy than what I wear. And I’m fat, but not curvy at all, so I think it’s frequently tied to hip/boob size even more than just being overweight (not to say size discrimination doesn’t apply, just that some of us who are overweight, but not very curvy may not realize how different it can be for people who are super curvy).

          2. Artemesia*

            with my terrible hair and wide hips I always had this secret fantasy that when I was old –far in the future — that the style would be shaved heads and muumuus — alas we are here now, I am old and so skinny jeans it is — and COVID hair worn in the same parted in the middle long style I wore in the 60s

        2. Evelyn*

          But sometimes members of older generations are still attached to ideas and mores that younger folks now consider outdated or oppressive. This woman might also be scandalized by visible tattoos, more than one piercing in each ear, or wearing a dress without pantyhose.
          Beyond that, many people internalize messages about how they should dress and use those to police other people too. Strict ideas about how women should dress don’t just come from men talking to women, they come from women policing each other and passing the ideas on.

        3. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          Just taking issue with the start of your comment. No, not especially the woman. Let’s not judge women more harshly for laughing than the men for harassing. We all know that plenty of women are misogynist, and it shocks me too, but still. By judging women more harshly we are simply perpetuating and upholding the patriarchy.

    2. HoHumDrum*

      Early in my career a client sexually harassed me and my boss responded by suggesting I reconsider what I wore to work. I laughed it off at the time, but that experienced really hurt me in ways I didn’t realize. Years later I realize I still avoid certain, formerly beloved, items of clothing because I feel like they broadcast lasciviousness somehow.

      Please continue to stand up for your employee LW. How you react to this situation may have long reaching impact on her.

      1. Payson the potato*

        I once told a supervisor how a male volunteer (I’m female) made me feel uncomfortable and gave several specific examples. Her response was that “it’s not against the law to be creepy” and then she proceeded to tell me a story about how she worked with a guy who stared and women’s chests and they just all joked about, “oh that’s so-and-so, the chest starer.”

        She was a horrible supervisor on many levels.

        1. Snailing*

          Ugh yes my former boss was like this. We were a gourmet food retailer and one of the wine reps we worked with would make weird comments, stare, even touch my lower back as he walked by. I was young in age and career, so I didn’t have the tools or the confidence to speak up to him directly. But when I told my boss about it directly and how it made me uncomfortable, she would laugh and brush it off like he was just being friendly or he was just strange, etc. I could tell, even then, that she reacted that way because she was uncomfortable too, but dammit she was my boss and the owner of the whole business. She had the power to shut it down but she didn’t because “that’s the way the world is” and it always made me so angry. We only got a new rep when he left to work elsewhere.

        2. yala*

          Reminds me of this one dude who I worked with at a movie theater once. For Reasons, he could not be fired, but he was Creepy. A.F.

          The male shift leads basically had a system for running interference so that none of the female employees (or patrons) would wind up dealing with him for too long.

        3. Quill*

          I’m going to paraphrase what my mom told me when I was a child about boys who pulled my hair: if asking him to behave doesn’t work, whack him. (And this is how I, specifically, got banned from wearing pigtail braids in the third grade – dude learned damn well to keep his hands to himself though!)

    3. Momma Bear*

      If it would not be a professional blow to the coworker, I’d change the schedule so he works with someone else. Showing up for her call less than dressed is harassment. What did the coworker say about the naked client?

      I also wonder what their definition of “tank top” is. Is it a shirt with straps thick enough to hide bra straps or is it more of a camisole? Over the years camisoles have become the norm and are no longer always worn under another shirt. That kind of “tank top” is probably best left out of a work environment, casual office or no. That might be something to discuss with her/the staff. No exposed undergarments on anyone is reasonable. I’d address this the same as someone who (for example) might be wearing too low jeans or other casual but iffy for office attire.

      Also, get the HVAC checked. If it’s too hot to wear a different shirt, maybe the office needs a new air conditioner.

      1. Observer*

        You are right. But the OP needs to realize that this is a TOTALLY separate discussion to how clients are behaving.

        We once can a similar issue – service provider showed up in genuinely inappropriate clothes. Client pinched her bottom.

        Supervisor told the client that this was his LAST warning – he ever lays a finger on a staff person and he’s an EX-client.

        Supervisor had a separate conversation with said staff person. NOT “You need to dress differently to keep clients from harrasing you” but “You can’t dress this way because it’s just inappropriate”.

        These are two separate issues – treat them that way.

      2. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

        Showing up for her call less than dressed is harassment.
        OP considered that it’s connected since he talked about her chest size… but is it possible that he was shirtless because it was hot in his locale as it was in hers? (I’ve heard reliable reports of people in my company showing up shirtless on video calls with their department and there was nothing ‘sexual harassment’ about it in that case, it really was just the weather!) … if he’s a “client” (which I also took to mean a user of a service that the non-profit provides, like a counselling service or something like that) it maybe just that it didn’t even register with him that that could be inappropriate!?

        As a cis woman myself I can see the potential for sexual harassment obviously but I also think sometimes we may be too quick to jump to it (only OP knows, really). … Why did OPs report mention to her that that client was wearing no shirt and then the client talked with OP separately (independently, not related to this incident, I mean).

        Wouldn’t it be more straightforward to shut this down by making (and enforcing for all, no matter body size) a dress code that no “revealing” clothing can be worn on client calls due to the potential for things to be ‘misinterpreted’ for example?

        I am not sure what ‘population’ would be known for being particularly direct, other than that people of certain nationalities are (stereotypically, of course) known for being more direct than others, but I can’t see why (only) people of certain nationalities would be clients of a specific non-profit, so I am lost with that part.

        1. OhGee*

          I could see people in recovery (a population my sibling works with) being known for being particularly direct, in addition to some of the other populations mentioned in posts further up. Also, a nonprofit could easily have a client base that is mostly people from a certain nationality – for example, if they work with refugees or recent immigrants and their region happens have a large refugee or recent immigrant community from a certain country.

        2. TrueBiz*

          Directness is often given as a feature of the Deaf community — so much so that “Deaf blunt” has become a shorthand for the way some hearing perceive and misunderstand clear communication.

        3. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          Define “revealing”. A body-hugging t-shirt reveals shape even if it covers everything. A loose shirt can reveal simply as it sways when the wearer gets up. Maybe we should introduce a female office uniform, like an Iranian chador (black tent with holes for face and hands) and be done with it?

    4. Jules the 3rd*

      So, I read ‘non-profit’ and ‘client’ and came up with the naked guy may be getting services from the non-profit, not a paying customer – think computer training or health care. Just keep the ‘non-profit’ thing in mind.

  2. Jam Today*

    Sorry, one of your clients took a video call SHIRTLESS? Did I read that right?

    You need to address THAT. Immediately.

        1. PeteAndRepeat*

          LW should switch that client to a different worker. I’d be incredibly uncomfortable to have to continue working with a client who appeared shirtless on a video call AND made comments about my body to my boss. I’ve been a service provider at a non-profit, and while there is unpleasant behavior you’re expected to just put up with, this is way crossing the line.

          1. Librarian of SHIELD*

            You know those ridiculous, outlandish “Of course that’s sexual harassment, anybody with sensory perception would know that” training videos some companies play as part of new employee orientation? This guys behavior is WORSE THAN THAT.

            1. hufflepuff hobbit*

              yes, but this likely isn’t the type of “client” many commentators are assuming — this may not be someone hiring the company, this may be a person accessing social services — more equivalent to a patient, or a psychiatrist’s “client” rather than someone who’s hiring your firm to do marketing, if that makes sense

              1. Observer*

                Yes. But unless you actually are talking about people with the kinds of ailments that make them unable to behave in appropriate ways, it doesn’t really matter. Someone’s health, social or economic status has no bearing on whether this kind of inappropriate behavior should be accepted.

                The correct answer here is NO, it should NOT be accepted.

                1. Eukomos*

                  And a whole lot of nonprofits serve people who need additional support to behave in appropriate ways, that’s why they need help from the nonprofits. OP spoke to him, so it’s not being accepted. When you’re helping vulnerable populations you can’t always come down on them like a ton of bricks when they cross lines that the more privileged among us are already aware of.

                2. Observer*

                  @Eukomos, actually most non-proftis don’t serve that kind of population, and social workers / therapists who help those clients are generally expected to dress a touch more professionally. So, it’s not really all that likely that these clients really need a lot of help with basic behavior norms.

                  Here is the thing – the OP apparently doesn’t think that these people have the kind of mental health issues that make it hard for them to behave withing reasonable norms. They think that because this is a client demographic that’s “direct” it’s to be expected that they will keep on acting like this even when asked nicely to stop. That’s just not acceptable.

              2. Artemesia*

                Depending on the service provided if we are talking about an individual service recipient, it could well be someone with a cluster of substance and mental health issues which make them more likely to behave inappropriately and have lowered inhibitions. Doesn’t mean you shouldn’t deal with it; definitely should and very firmly but probably in steps starting with very clear warning that continuing the behavior will result in loss of service. This would also account for the giggling female client. Women usually have enough awareness to not do this openly, but impaired service recipients might well not.

                I am surprised anyone working for a non-profit that isn’t a swimming pool would allow staff to wear tank tops in zoom calls or client contact. I am imagining classic tanks with fairly thin straps or camis and not just sleeveless blouses.

                1. virago*

                  I am surprised anyone working for a non-profit that isn’t a swimming pool would allow staff to wear tank tops in zoom calls or client contact. I am imagining classic tanks with fairly thin straps or camis and not just sleeveless blouses.

                  And I am imagining a T-shirt without sleeves. Neither of us knows.

                  As a person with large breasts who works in a a very small department (three people) that has daily Zoom check-ins, I can picture a sleeveless T-shirt that I would wear during a Zoom call. My condo is very small and has no a/c and when it was hot, I had few options that were a) modest snd b) cool.

              3. Librarian of SHIELD*

                That didn’t occur to me, since my industry uses “customer” to refer to the people who use our services. But I’ve seen several customers or program presenters trespassed from all library properties for sexually harassing staff. The context of the relationship may not be employment based, but it is still professional. And this is still really over the top, “we couldn’t put this example in our training materials because people would think it was too ridiculous and on the nose” level behavior.

              4. Nanani*

                The client can still be moved to another staff member, or directed to a different provider entirely. You do not get to harass people just because you’re legitimately entitled to the service they provide.

        2. MsM*

          Right. OP seems to be approaching this from a standpoint of “well, the client’s going to keep doing this, so I need to make Employee work around them,” instead of “client cannot continue to do this, and I need to make that clear to them.”

          1. stray italian greyhound*

            Because men can’t control themselves and so women have to control themselves for them! Sigh.

            One part of being a feminist is I think men are better people than non-feminists try to insist they are.

            1. hufflepuff hobbit*

              yeah, but this guy could be mentally ill — he obviously needs a different contact at their organization (tank top employee should be protected from him), and he is likely a very icky guy, but my hospital doesn’t fire patients just for being icky, and this could very well be similar. Icky people need services, too.

              1. stray italian greyhound*

                As someone who has lifelong PTSD stemming from childhood trauma, this is not a compelling reason to me to allow someone to be harassed.

              2. Nopenopenope*

                So his mental illness consists of commenting on the size of a women’s breasts and then proceeding to undress before hopping on video chat with her, a thing specifically noted he has never done to them, just the one woman whose breast size he specifically noted? I feel like there are many labels for that behavior, and none of them are related to mental illness.

                1. Rusty Shackelford*

                  His mental illness may include a lack of impulse control, and this is one way it manifests. I’m not saying he should be allowed to treat the employee that way – he absolutely should NOT – I’m just saying that it is possible that it’s related to a mental illness.

              3. Observer*

                Could we just STOP with excuse making? It’s not useful to the OP or the victim. And it stigmatized mental illness.

                This guy is not “being icky”. He is harrasing a staff person.

                There is absolutely no reason from what the OP says to assume that mental illness plays a role here. And there is reason to think that the OP thinks it’s just cultural – she says that this a population that is “direct”. But, even if mental illness is at play here, that’s not a good reason to allow it, as most mentl illnesses don’t express themselves this way. In the unlikely event that the OP’s organization specifically deal with that type of mental illness there may be an issue that requires a conversation with a lawyer. Otherwise, it makes no difference whatsoever.

                1. Artemesia*

                  Have you worked directly with impoverished people, often homeless, with mental and substance abuse issues? I have and direct doesn’t begin to cover it. Of course you establish some standards about sexual harassment, but you also don’t pretend they don’t have serious inhibition and social inappropriateness issues to start with which is partly why they are in need of service. Being firm about it and not at all subtle, but you also understand whom you are dealing with and so may have to have policies in place about what staff wears (all staff, not just the woman being harassed in this example) and what they can say and how they behave.
                  I once worked preparing high functioning mentally delayed adults to leave an institution and live in the community. They have huge difficulties in generalizing. One of the things we had to do it make sure the staff modeled dress that was socially appropriate. I remember one issue (this was nearly 60 years ago so social standards of dress were different) had to do with untucked shirts. There are shirts designed to be worn out but a regular man’s dress type shirt ‘should not’ be worn untucked. We had all the guys wear their shirts tucked in (regardless of type) because they were modeling the behavior we were teaching our clients to be socially acceptable in the community. They had trouble distinguishing time and place.

                  If you are working with a difficult clientele, some thought has to go in to what people wear and what kinds of things they can say — more carefully than with a fully functioning group. Having everyone wear shirts with sleeves and no cleavage when interacting with this clientele may be necessary.

                2. Observer*

                  Yes, in the very unlikley event that this is the kind of client base the OP is dealing with dress code changes may be necessary.

                  But based on what the OP says, that does not sound like the most likely scenario. Jumping to that remote possibility without any reason is excuse making.

                  And if that is the situation, the OP is STILL approaching it incorrectly.

                3. Keymaster of Gozer*

                  Thank you.

                  I’ve been in a psychiatric ward this year. If I’d been unable to be stopped from harassing/assaulting the staff though they’d have had every right to refuse to deal with me. (They’ll generally sedate you instead). Example: I’ve got a phobia of beards. Psychiatric nurse has a beard. Did the nhs tell him to shave to make me more comfortable?

              4. PuzzledPuzzler*

                Having experience in this environment, mental health issues aren’t an excuse for boundary-crossing. Patients (or clients) may exhibit inappropriate behavior, but it is no more acceptable than it is in any other scenario. Which makes me think that isn’t the issue here, because most people who work in mental healthcare are taught to have stringent boundaries and educated on what to do in this type of situation.

              5. Keymaster of Gozer*

                I have mental health issues. I count as mentally ill (ye gods definitely this year) and really, saying that it’s an excuse to harass, hurl abuse or affect another person negatively is really, really insulting.

              6. Nanani*

                Not helpful to people with mental illness (most of whom ARENT skeevy), nor to LW and their employee who is being harassed.

                And yes, you can refer icky guy to a different provider or just to a different employee than the one he’s harassing.

            2. Snailing*

              >One part of being a feminist is I think men are better people than non-feminists try to insist they are.


              1. Tidewater 4-1009*

                Yes, I’ve always thought the point of view that men inherently can’t control themselves or show basic respect is very insulting to men.

          2. Sam.*

            This guy was the most egregious, but it sounds like he’s not the only one who’s made remarks. I suspect OP was thinking that the employee changing her clothing would disrupt something that seems to be becoming a pattern with clients. I obviously don’t know OP, but I’m willing to give her the benefit of the doubt that her instinctive response would be different if it was just one problematic guy.

            1. Sam.*

              (to be clear, I’m NOT saying that the solution is to tell the employee to change her wardrobe. I’m just trying to understand OP’s thought process here.)

            2. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

              And actually… the number of people who will say something is generally just a fraction of the people who actually notice the ‘thing’, as a general principle (maybe even in populations who are known for being direct!) … I am typically quite direct myself, although I’m not part of a specifically direct population, I’m just myself in that respect, but even I would often think about speaking my mind in this kind of situation actually even if I was thinking it!

              OP did seem to say that it was remarked on by various ages and genders of people, which of course doesn’t mean much in itself, but I inferred (it may be a stretch, but I am fairly sure) that the remarks weren’t really sexual in nature, more like “I couldn’t help noticing that Jane was wearing very revealing clothing during our appointment” rather than eg, “ooh. that Jane, she has got big whatsits hasn’t she? I do like the big whatsits…ooo” etc.

              Is OPs report the only one who wears revealing clothing like that? (OP said that “t-shirts” are the norm, but a spaghetti strap top is far from a t-shirt in the modesty stakes) If so it’s a much easier problem.

      1. Jenny*

        Yes and no. She also talked to the employee about it which puts the onus on her for being sexually harassed. Not okay.

  3. AnonInTheCity*

    I really think you have a “clients are sexually harassing my employee” problem, not a “the shape of my employee’s body is provoking clients” problem. Naked on a video call? Really?

    1. Lemon curdle*

      Yes. This.

      And just to be clear, I work for a charity and we work with complex clients with lots of issues who maybe get more leeway with some stuff. But this? This would be treated very seriously as an issue with the client, not the staffer.

    2. another Hero*

      Yeah, respecting the cultural norms and communication styles of your clients is a good thing, obviously, but using that as an excuse to make your staff put up with harassment? Nope, no, no

    3. PeteAndRepeat*

      I’ve run into similar issues with people from a culture where this kind of directness is normal, and commenting on strangers’ appearances and behavior is not only acceptable, but seen as kind and helpful. It can be a hard gap to bridge, but LW needs to shut this commentary down regardless. Say “it’s company policy” – they don’t need to agree that this is wrong and unwelcome, they just need to cut it out.

      Also, being unclothed on a video call is inexcusable no matter what the context. That guy sounds like a creep. Gross.

    4. IndustriousLabRat*

      Right?! Who DOES that?
      Oh wait…. creepers, that’s who.
      Good for you, OP, for addressing the shirtless-client-is-being-creepy issue in the moment, and definitely focus on that as one extreme example of all the less extreme, but still inappropriate, things you’ve mentioned (comments from various parties) that add up to the REAL problem!

    5. Lala762*

      THIS! 100% THIS!
      Can we PLEASE stop telling women (and girls) with big chests that they’re just too sexy for daily life?
      The issue isn’t these women and girls, it’s the fools around them.

    6. Anonys*

      100% It’s good OP told the naked client off, but she should have also told the “older lady” client or anyone else who has mentioned it, that it was inappropriate to comment on the employers body and that further such comments would not be accepted.

      Has someone large-chested myself, I so often feel like I need to make my chest appear as unnoticeable as possible, to not have any bra show, etc. both in work and private situations when I know my small chested friends and colleagues could wear the same things without a second thought.

    1. Specks*

      It’s à nonprofit. A client is someone in the community they serve, probably with particular needs. You don’t “fire” them – you refuse to serve them if behavior gets particularly egregious. Which, based on what kind of nonprofit this is and what kind of severity of issues this addresses, this unfortunately might not meet. This isn’t about the nonprofit getting money, it’s about the needy getting services. If nonprofits stopped serving every client with mental health issues or something that behaved inappropriately once, they’d soon be useless to the community. It can suck as staff sometimes, but that’s why we go into service. The OP addressed it perfectly.

      1. Specks*

        In regards to talking to the client, that is. Not in terms of thinking of how to tell the employee to cover up.

      2. Putting Out Fires, Esq.*

        I’m a public defender, so I know from harassment. But when my client gets on the video phone at the jail and starts masturbating (a thing that happens) I can tell him “you’re not in a place for this conversation and I’ll be back later” and sign off. You’re still legally responsible for your employees, even in public interest work.

  4. Detective Amy Santiago*

    I’m going to try really hard not to break the commenting rules.

    I used to wear a DDD cup. ALL of my clothing accentuated my chest. Even turtlenecks. Instead of “talking to her” about it, tell your clients to stop being gross. She can’t help what her body looks like. And short of wearing a turtleneck, making a rule about no visible cleavage won’t help.

    Women’s bodies are not public property and the fact that we exist is not an invitation to comment on our bodies. I am utterly disgusted that this is something that needs to be said in 2020.

        1. feministbookworm*

          yup, the only option is a completely unfitted shirt that makes your entire body look the size of your chest… which then opens you up to a different kind of body-related discrimination that disproportionally affects women: looking overweight and frumpy.

          1. hufflepuff hobbit*

            exactly – when one is “endowed” there are pretty much two choices for one’s look: “chesty” or fat

          2. No Tribble At All*

            Or even better, because the fabric will drape down from the widest part of your boobs: you look like you’re trying to hide a pregnancy!

      1. Detective Amy Santiago*


        I will say that having a breast reduction was the best decision I’ve ever made, but man this letter makes me mad.

        1. Blackcat*

          yeah. I am waiting until I am 100% sure I am done producing tiny humans, but after that, reduction surgery, here we come!

          1. EchoGirl*

            I haven’t fully committed to the concept, but I’ve considered it; I’m not quite at a point yet where they’re causing massive problems, but looking back on the last few years, I feel like I’m continuing to “grow” despite being in my late 20s, so it could get there. Right now, the biggest roadblock (other than concerns that the continuous growth issue would ultimately undo it) is that I have a 50/50 chance of having inherited a mutation that increases the risk of breast cancer, so I’m not going to go to the cost and trouble of having breast surgery only to end up needing a mastectomy 10 years down the road. And for reasons that I think most people in the US will understand, I’m extremely hesitant to get tested at the moment.

        2. stray italian greyhound*

          Breast reduction surgery is the BEST thing I’ve ever done. However, the one thing I wished someone had told me before I had mine: …they can grow back.

          1. MsM*

            Oof, yeah. I had a friend of mine who did it and had that happen, which significantly decreased my interest in the procedure. But she was really happy while it lasted!

            1. baby kangaroo*

              Don’t let that deter you. I asked my doctor about that before my surgery- I’d already had an early-20’s “growth spurt” and another in my late 20’s, putting me in a J. My doctor’s point was, if they start growing *again* they would at least be starting from a smaller size.

        3. momofpeanut*

          My 21 year old daughter is having one next week. She’s been living in sweatshirts since she found a young man at her university surreptitiously photographing her breasts every day. It destroyed her self confidence and I would punch him if I could.

          OP, I’m sorry, but you are completely wrong. This is like making middle school girls wear long sleeves to prom because some dads gawp at their bodies.

          1. Zillah*

            OP, I’m sorry, but you are completely wrong. This is like making middle school girls wear long sleeves to prom because some dads gawp at their bodies.

            Wait, this is a thing????

        4. Keymaster of Gozer*

          I’ve got a 40h chest and a serious upper spine injury and ye gods do I wish for a reduction.

          Sadly the NHS refuses because I’m not a normal BMI. I have to lose weight first. Like…the amount those things take up.

          1. Gumby*

            Wait, really?

            People, we have found a case in which US-style health insurance was better than NHS! My mother is not a “normal” BMI and once she had a doctor sign off that her chest was contributing to back problems her reduction was covered.

            I, frankly, don’t see how weight in general would counter-indicate a reduction. I really really don’t. I am super not a fan of denying health care to people because they are heavier than some ideal in a statistician’s chart somewhere. Ugh. I’m so sorry!

            1. Kathlynn (canada)*

              I know someone who had this same issue in Canada. Over weight by about 40-60 pounds, and couldn’t get a reduction unless she lost weight.

            2. Keymaster of Gozer*

              Sadly, “I’m blaming all your issues on your weight” is kinda prevalent in the nhs, least in my county. Funny story: a different doctor blamed it on my height (I’m very tall, over 6 foot) and really I have no idea what I’m supposed to do about that!

              (Unless I’m named Alice)

          2. Quill*

            And I’m sure “hey, I know how I could lose that much weight – just take it off the top!” hasn’t made any insurance / nhs statistics-based care battles better.

        1. PeanutButter*

          I get the rare tri-boob because one of mine ranges from a half to a full cup size larger than the other, depending on where I am in my cycle. Ugh.

      2. Tabby*

        Omg Heroic Turtle Boob is a thing! It’s precisely why I only wear collared or henley neck shirts. Anything else is like “LOOKIT MAH CANNONS YALL!”

      3. Mel_05*

        Yup. Honestly, I think turtlenecks make the chest stand out more. I have a large chest and I find that having a top that is cut low, but not low enough to show anything, is the sweet spot in not looking like I’m all chest or completely shapeless. Not to say people are wrong for dressing in the other ways, but this is the balance I like.

        1. Rusty Shackelford*

          I agree. A turtleneck eliminates cleavage, but emphasizes a large chest in other ways. (But still! Wear it if you want to!)

          1. Atlantian*

            I as going to comment this above. A turtleneck does nothing but accentuate their size. Larger chested women who want to minimize their appearance of size should wear, first of all, a properly fit bra, and then something that will lie between the breasts, if there is space, or show a tiny amount of cleavage (1-2 in) like a v-neck sweater or a button up with the top couple of buttons undone. Don’t be work inappropriate, but you will look more proportional if you’re not in a sweater that is straining to stretch across your front. Unfortunately, this means having things properly tailored helps a lot, also. A shirt or dress that fits both your boobs AND waist will also do a lot to normalize your shape, since a lot of what leads your brain to think a person is larger than they are is if they are wearing clothing that fits one area and not another, because then it is obvious that you are having to compensate by sizing up.

      4. feministbookworm*

        Also, I find that having a chest not only affects things like cleavage/uniboob/etc, it also causes shirts to be midriff shirts, especially in front. This problem is exacerbated for me because I have a long torso. Tunic-length shirts look like they are standard length on me. SO frustrating.

        1. Paulina*

          Ooh, yes. I share this problem. I’ve gotten very good at judging at a glance if a shirt will be long enough, but for many shirts (that I don’t buy) if I tug them down enough to reliably tuck in, they’re too low in top. Sigh.

          1. Quill*

            When will the trend towards “sort of cropped because we want it to just skim a high waisted pant” tshirts go away? Asking for a long-torsoed woman (me)

            1. AKchic*

              -also asking for us not-so-hourglass waisted AFAB types who’s only curve is “up top” (seriously, I look like a box with giant balloons at the top and pool noodles for legs). Any kind of crop or hint of crop top is not a good look for me. Especially when I have adult children. Some fashions have an expiration date.

        2. Kathlynn (canada)*

          This is me, so much. Gotta go for the extra long shirts. And figure out how to find the line between “is she pregnant” and “shapeless blob” in the torso (it’s a thing for me, I got to feel like I have curves. I’m one of those people with larger boobs, who probably would over do it if they got a boob job.)

      5. KoiFeeder*

        As I have heard said, only cowards and fools fear the boob monolith.

        (Although that was a post about wearing turtlenecks if that’s what you like and what makes you happy.)

    1. Keymaster of Gozer*

      I have a 40H chest. There’s literally nothing I can wear that doesn’t make it obvious I have boobage of mass distraction.

      Yes, there were guys who stared at me at previous jobs. That, however, was their issue. I refused to wear ‘less tailored clothing’ or ‘turtlenecks’ or whatever to ‘avoid attention’. It was suggested at one point that I LIKED the attention because I refused to cover up entirely neck to foot which definately wasn’t the case (no, I’m not dressing up nicely to ‘get men’s attention’. I do it because it makes me feel good).

      If someone is complaining that a woman’s boobage is ‘distracting’ then they’re essentially saying they are far too immature to be in business.

      1. Solidarity*

        I am no where as large as you ladies and it’s a joke amongst my friends how it doesn’t matter what I wear. I have cleavage to my neck! There is nothing I can do about it. It is what it is and these clients need to remember they are still in a place of business (even if virtually) and behave accordingly.

      2. Wendy*

        “Boobage of mass destruction” makes me laugh and also gives me an AWESOME idea for a new superhero(ine) :-D

        1. Keymaster of Gozer*

          In my extensive comic collection I can safely say most of the female superheroes tend to be just as top heavy as me anyway! Course they also have broken spines (No you can’t show front and back at the same time), waists smaller than their wrist and plasticine legs too :p

      3. Paulina*

        I’m 38GG, and yes there’s nothing I can wear that can make it not “distracting”, to those who are minded to be distracted. Especially when it comes to professional clothes. Shirts that shouldn’t show cleavage tend to do it on me (depending on viewer angle), button-up shirts don’t stay buttoned, blazers don’t close well, and the smoothing effect of turtlenecks makes my chest even more obvious. And then there’s the thin fabrics (even thinner when stretched), sigh. I don’t have back trouble so I refuse to get a reduction; it’s other people making it a problem, not me, and clothes should be cut to fit bodies, not the other way around.

        In my current video-meeting reality, I have noticed that some camera angles can make it worse, one way or another. Too high and it can look like more cleavage, too low and the chest size is even more emphasized. I usually go for a head-and-shoulders shot if I can, and always cover my shoulders.

        1. MsM*

          I can’t remember the last time I even bothered trying on a shirt with buttons. It just isn’t going to happen. And OP wants to reduce her employee’s options even further because of other people’s lack of tact? Grrr.

            1. EchoGirl*

              I’ve taken to wearing button ups strategically only buttoned halfway with a shell-like undershirt underneath, making it look like it’s a style choice and not because I can’t button it any higher without potential problems.

          1. Deliliah*

            Off-topic, but eShakti makes some GREAT button-up shirts. You can send them your measurements and they tailor the top to you. I have one button-up dress and one-button up shirt from them, and both of them have hidden buttons between the visible buttons to curb gaping and provide extra reinforcement!

        2. DJ*

          I’m currently a 34J (yay for breastfeeding). I found that demi cami’s help make certain clohing easier (think items that others could wear no problem, but a definite no no in professional settings for those well endowed). But even then, sometimes I think the demis just point out the issue more than mitigate it.

      4. BluntBunny*

        Yes I agree to all of this I am 32FF also with a big ass so natural hour glass been this way since 15. Jumpers, blouses, dresses nothing can hide it, the clothes that you might think would just look really unflattering like a potato. I think it actually can depend a lot on the bra how noticeable they are.
        But it is a fact that I have big breasts and there’s nothing wrong with that it’s not my fault that attracts some people. Same with having a big ass jeans, skirts, dresses it won’t make a difference. People can be really into feet but you wouldn’t tell someone wearing trainers/boots to make there feet less noticeable would you.

      5. AKchic*

        As a former 36J-K (who is now a more comfortable 36G) – I feel you. A turtleneck is nothing more than a blank tittay canvas to be stared at, unless the fabric has a design on it, then it’s a billboard for the print.

        At this point, it’s a running joke that these things will kill somebody, if not me. Jim-Bob and Tinga do what Jim-Bob and Tinga are gonna do. Occasionally I’ll get them trussed up in a corset for everyone’s protection, but they will try to smother ME in the process.
        (I do occasionally quip that my chest is so large to make up for the fact that I am completely flat on the other end)

    2. dogmom*

      ITA! I’m “only” a DD and it doesn’t matter what I wear, it’s going to be obvious I have a large chest. (And I refuse to wear like three sport bras at once to strap them down just so other people won’t comment or stare.) I can’t even imagine the poor employee having to put up with the gross naked client on Zoom when she’s just trying to do her job. That guy sucks.

    3. many bells down*

      Yes this. I worked with a young teacher that was very big-breasted. When she showed even a sliver of cleavage parents complained. So she came in wearing a turtleneck… and got even more complaints. There’s a weird optical illusion where covering large breasts completely just makes them look more noticeable.

    4. Mockingjay*


      My daughter fits the description of the OP’s employee. She does her best to find work appropriate clothing that are also cool, breathable fabrics (our very warm muggy climate exacerbates her body heat), but she doesn’t earn much and is on a very limited budget. She gets so frustrated by double standards for women’s body sizes. She’s a hard, reliable worker and people pay attention to her chest instead of her performance.

    5. BigKid*

      I used to be a G before I had reduction surgery. (Extensive and extremely painful) A female boss confronted me about a top I wore. She didn’t convey that it violated dress code. She said men were staring at me and it was making people uncomfortable (that someone was obviously her.) The top wasn’t super low cut but I have a high breast bone and cleavage in almost anything I wore. I was embarrassed and humiliated by this talk and was in tears. I became a million times more self conscious about my body. I wore super professional clothes and this one top was too low. I hope people will think about the impact on the recipient before they say something about this.

    6. Dagny*

      Turtlenecks are famous for making that worse.

      It is not intuitive or obvious how to dress one’s own particular body; I learned how to around age 30. Likely, this young woman may not even know how to dress to direct attention away from her chest. Sometimes, a better bra can do wonders; she may not be able to afford those or know they are worth the money.

      Ironically, v-necks (so long as they are high) and cowl necks reduce the appearance of the chest. She may benefit from more structured tops.

      Obviously, it is still the job of adults in the workplace to not act like drunk frat boys; the manager has a legal and ethical duty to shut this down. However, if she feels the need to provide sartorial advice to her employee, it would not be “be more modest” so much as “try a bunch of things on and be ready to be surprised for what flatters.” In fact, that tends to be good advice for anyone in the workplace.

      1. Me*

        No. The boss does not need to have a conversation about finding more “flattering” clothes.

        The only issue is the gross client behavior. Full stop.

      2. Keymaster of Gozer*

        >> Likely, this young woman may not even know how to dress to direct attention away from her chest.

        This is exactly the wrong approach to take.

        1. MsM*

          Right? Listen to all the women who deal with this issue on a daily basis chiming in here. It’s not that we don’t have strategies for dealing with this. We just recognize from extensive experience that there’s only so much to be done, and at some point, you just gotta find the best balance you can between comfortable and covered.

            1. Quill*

              If there’s a “problem” with your body it’s never actually a “you don’t obtain the right clothes” it’s a “other people feel entitled to judge your body” problem.

        2. NW Mossy*

          Yeah, I’m not a fan of this either.

          Advice that boils down to “if you would just do X, the other person will stop doing Y” is problematic, because it trashes the concept of each person being autonomous and human in their own right. I don’t control anyone’s behavior but my own, and the same applies to every other human on earth. This comes up in many more contexts than this one, and it’s never a good look.

          When you make a woman responsible for a man’s thirsty behavior, you’re both a) asking her to assume control of his actions as if he’s a marionette and b) absolving him of the autonomy to master his own actions. Even leaving the serious ethical issues out of it, it sets the receiver of the advice up to fail no matter how hard they try.

          1. Keymaster of Gozer*

            I was told, once long ago, that my being attacked in public one day could have been prevented if I’d ‘paid more attention to what you were wearing’ and ‘didn’t show off your body’. By the police.

            I’m also, through this post, becoming aware this has left some serious scars on my psyche and along with other body-shaming/fat-shaming/victim-blaming stuff I’ve had in my career is…making things a bit difficult to remain objective!.

            Going to say though, very grateful for the people responding with ‘me too, don’t blame her clothing!’ and similar showing their experiences.

            1. Jules the Goblin*

              I’m sorry you went through that, but I’m so glad that it’s help you come to a realization <3 Reading AAM and Captain Awkward has helped me take on a lot of different perspectives and I really value how they amplify many female voices (as well as others).

              1. Keymaster of Gozer*

                AAM and Captain Awkward are part of what helped me enormously this year. Combination of ‘thank god I’m not alone’ and ‘wow, these are good scripts to deal with issues, I must remember them’.

            2. baby kangaroo*

              Sorry to hear the police were so ridiculously out of touch. Far too many of us have had variations of these experiences. I hope the discussion is therapeutic for you.

            3. virago*

              I was told, once long ago, that my being attacked in public one day could have been prevented if I’d ‘paid more attention to what you were wearing’ and ‘didn’t show off your body’. By the police.

              I also am so, so sorry about the ignorant victim blaming and body shaming that you received when you were vulnerable and you should have gotten support.

              I wore a 34F for many years (now a 36F/FF after gaining 30 pounds — thanks, hypothyroidism). I also have big hips and a small waist. So it is difficult for me to disguise my breasts.

              I’ve been catcalled while I was wearing a winter parka, for crying out loud. (So alluring!) Those cops who blamed your clothing instead of your assailants have failed to evolve and should find another line of work that doesn’t involve interaction with the public, especially women.

        3. DJ*

          I think the original commenter meant that if the employee felt uncomfortable/oblivious. But not the place of a boss to make such suggestions.

          I’m personally not comfortable with showing a lot of skin at work and I’m 34J. But that’s me. I wouldn’t want to have that discussion with a boss though.

      3. Cool and the Gang*

        Maybe this woman thinks she looks good? Who is to say she is more flattering when she shows less of her chest? She also could be middle aged and this is what makes her feel her bet at work.
        The assumption that she IS trying to minimize her chest is not a great one to make.

        Also, would you ever tell a man that he should “try a bunch of things on and be ready to be surprised for what flatters.” ??

        1. Zillah*

          Also, would you ever tell a man that he should “try a bunch of things on and be ready to be surprised for what flatters.” ??

          Bingo. And it has a huge impact on women’s psyches and emotional well-being, because being anxious about whether you’re wearing something “flattering” whenever you’re in public is super exhausting.

      4. Batgirl*

        “This young woman may not even know how to dress to direct attention away from her chest.”
        She doesn’t have to cause it’s work, not the front page of vogue. She doesn’t have to reshape her body with colours and silhouettes just to make a living. I do take an interest in styling but I would never take the same level of interest in an employee’s body framing presentation that I take in my own. It’s grossly overstepping. The employee gets to keep her own untweaked body shape and everyone else will just have to fucking deal.

      5. Paulina*

        In addition to what others have written above about it not being appropriate to expect the employee to change how she dresses to “direct attention away”: any time I find “structured tops” that actually fit me it’s because I’ve been sewing. I don’t give them a second look in stores since things aren’t going to line up properly anyway. Stretchy clothes are what tends to fit. It’s hard enough to find anything appropriate that additional expectations that ignore the body-type limitations of what’s available are unfair.

        1. kicking-k*

          Yes, this. And also, it can be doubly difficult to find warm-weather clothing that looks OK. I have tried on plenty of airy and apparently modest loose summer tops only to find that the drapey cloth wasn’t as concealing as I’d hoped, or the neckline didn’t stay put and risked letting my bra peek out. Winter clothing may be more reliable but you won’t look professional if you’re sweltering, either.

    7. Storie*

      I’m with Amy Santiago. People
      Are giving you kudos for speaking to that client about being clothed, but I don’t see you standing up for your employee across the board.

      You should be careful—the harassment suit could easily be about YOU in the future. You’ve become part of making things difficult and uncomfortable for her. Even though you are a woman yourself.

    8. Shakti*

      Yes!! I have a big chest and a small waist and there’s literally nothing I can do to hide that and I shouldn’t have to hide my body either!! Of course I wear professional clothes when I’m working, but things fit differently and just like someone who’s very tall or something I literally can’t control it. It’s so nice to have Alison say it’s not her fault because that’s not the way it gets treated often

    9. Destroyer of Worlds, Empress of Awesome*

      A DDD cup? That had to seriously be painful on your back. OUCH! I’m glad to see you had breast reduction and are better.

      On another note, now I know where the rest of my chest went.

      1. Detective Amy Santiago*

        I have far less back issues now. They removed 5 lbs of tissue during my surgery. I mentioned this to a (male) coworker when I got back to work and he asked if that was really a lot. I told him to try wearing a 5 lb bag of flour around his neck on a string and then ask me again.

        1. Destroyer of Worlds, Empress of Awesome*

          5 POUNDS? Damn……being much smaller chested myself (I struggle to fill out a B cup) I can’t even imagine the pain and strain that brought onto your body. Good for you for getting rid of that extra 5 pounds….

      2. Small band big cup*

        I don’t want to deflect, but: Depending on band size, this isn’t necessarily that large. I wear 30DDD, and very few people think I have big boobs. (And I whine about mine so I’ve had this conversation with many social contacts, of multiple genders.)

        Some of it is band size and some of it is boob shape. Cup size alone means very little. All this to say: measure yourself or get yourself measured at a real bra store (not VS)! You might be surprised. VS put me in a 34C and I was wondering why things were so uncomfortable and unsupportive for so long… I barely notice bras of the right size, they only bring comfort.

        Amy – I’m so glad your breast reduction went well! Sounds like it’s exactly what you needed. :)

        1. Chinook*

          Body shape also matters. I am a DDD and I don’t look like it because I have broad shoulders. In fact, I might even look flat chested if I had a reduction. I am also lucky enough to have finally learned what clothes are flattering for my body shape. I am a full believer that well fitted clothing draw less attention to big chests more than anything else. (Thank you for whomever here first recommended eshakti dot com because I swear by them to be able to buy clothing that doesn’t pull or gap.)

          I agree completely that this issue is on the client and not the employee, but, at the same time, it also sounds like it may be time for the OP to update their dress code to take into consideration the demands of video calls. I too think that tank tops, bare shoulders are too casual for a work environment for both men and women and also rarely fit well enough not to gape and show underwear. Eye angles are also different and, unless you have worked at a desk where everyone is looking down on you, you aren’t always aware at how much someone can see when they are no longer at eye level.

          A general dress code rule about not intentionally seeing undergarments should be gender neutral and easy to reinforce, right?

        2. anon 30FF*

          Yeah, I wear a 30FF and I guess people think I have biggish boobs but like, if I ever reveal my bra size they are shocked (and mostly I get outright accused of lying) — people definitely don’t think I am ‘that big’ and I don’t really draw attention when in normal t-shirts etc.

        3. Rainey*

          Same. I’m a 30E and as one friend put it, I have “sneaky boobs.” It takes people a quick second to realize how big they are compared to the rest of me. VS ladies used to just measure right at the top – where I carry the least amount of boobage – and try and squeeze me into an A cup. My mother finally got tired of me coming home with A & B cups and came in with me (yes, I was well into adulthood by this point) and the sales lady was shocked when I completely filled out a 32 D.

          But I’ve had a few colleagues over the years pull me aside to tell me I needed to cover up, and I’ve been accused of “showing off” when wearing a simple scoop neck that I didn’t even think twice about. My power move is a well-fitted turtle or crew neck.

    10. Amethyst*

      My chest is a 44F. I didn’t really get all the harassment (mostly because I’m fat so I guess I’m visually a turnoff? IDK.) but I did grow up dealing with comments from my own mother telling me to “get your boobs out of my way” & “cover your boobs” & such, particularly when I was assembling a puzzle with my 10 year old cousin on the floor. Obviously I can’t do anything about them; they’re going to be in the way no matter what, but there were a few points where I snapped at her & told her that if my cleavage bothered her so much then she can stop looking cuz I can’t help it & I’m not going to put my windbreaker in front of it because her own sensibilities were bothered.

      Maybe people need to be reminded to keep their eyeballs on their own boobs instead of worrying about other people’s assets. This is ridiculous.

    11. Some Cajun Queen*

      Yup. People that comment on women’s breasts are going to do so no matter what those women wear. There’s an assumption among too many people that large-breasted women should walk around in tents. I would have been pissed about this conversation if I were the employee too. I bet it’s not the first time she’s had to deal with this.

      1. Julia*

        Actually, I think the assumption starts way earlier. For whatever reason, we seem to assume that large-breasted women are by definition sexual beings, as if we could somehow influence the size of our breasts. “I feel sexy today, better grow a few sizes!”

    12. whocanpickone*

      I think there is a fine line and we do not know if the clothing (Tank top) was business appropriate or not. I say this as someone who also has large breasts and had to council an employee on appropriate dress.

      My employee told me that “she had boobs and can’t help it”. She didn’t understand that I wasn’t asking her to wear a turtleneck, but that should couldn’t wear see-through or backless tank tops to the office.

      Maybe OP is focused on the wrong thing or maybe the employee doesn’t yet understand business norms, or maybe both!

      1. Marthooh*

        The OP said that tank tops are worn by others at the company, so they are considered appropriate. There’s no reason to think OP’s employee doesn’t understand business norms. If your own employee didn’t understand what you said to her, I guess you weren’t speaking clearly.

    13. Nanani*


      LW, you cannot resolve gross objectification by talking to the person being objectified.
      Tell the people who have a problem with her appearance to be professional. It sounds like the employee isn’t violating the dress code, and that must be kept at the forefront.

    14. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      G-cup here. Came here to say that there is nothing, absolutely nothing outside of a 6 ft tall burlap sack, that OP’s employee can wear to make her chest be not visible. The talk will lead to nothing but, at a minumum, utter confusion and inability to follow the new rule, but most likely, to the employee going to HR or leaving.

    15. Perpal*

      I’ve known a handful of busty ladies and I swear, somehow people are routinely ruder than usual about commenting. Like… why? What are they hoping to accomplish, really? My husband gets a lot of “you are tall!” comments (he is very tall) but the boob comments are so judgy for something that is just a physical trait being clothed totally normally. Like, there ain’t no type of normal clothing that will somehow make them disappear, so stop acting like there is! And if that body type is not to your dating preferences, no one else needs to know about it!

  5. Beebop*

    This reminds me of at my last workplace, one of my bosses(a woman I should add) approached me and told me that a sheath dress I wore was inappropriate for work and to stop wearing it. A coworker of mine at the time, who was thin, wore similar dresses all the time and was never reprimanded as far as I know. The dress was professional, no V cut and I always wore a shrug to cover my arms. But I guess being a curvy woman made it somehow not okay? Stuff like this is BS.

    1. Jimming*

      I have almost the same story! I wore a professional dress in the summer – it had 1 inch straps. You couldn’t see my bra straps. My manager told me to cover up because my straps were “too small” (even tho 1-inch was the dress code). My straight-sized coworker was in the same client meeting as me with her spaghetti straps and bra straps showing. It was really upsetting.

      For OP, if you’re that concerned, change the dress code so there’s no tank tops for anyone. Make the guidelines clear, and enforce them for everyone. Don’t just single out your busty colleagues.

      1. Jennifer S.*

        Something similar happened to me…but in middle school. Some of us developed earlier, one day all the larger chested girls in tanktops were call out at lunch and brought to the gym to be scolded for disobeying the dress code (tank tops with 1 in straps). Almost none of us violated that, and other girls in similar tank tops, including someone in the exact same tank top as me were fine. 20 years later and I’m still mad.

        1. Body Shamed*

          Basically same, except it was just me singled out by my science teacher in 7th grade. The shirt actually basically had 3″ straps (it was really just a sleeveless crew-neck shirt), but you could tell I had breasts and thus it was offensive. At the time I was just confused, and told him that my shirt was within dress code. A couple classmates chimed in saying the same and he backed down. I am still pissed nearly 25 years later.

    2. Charlotte Lucas*

      As a curvy woman myself, I find this especially annoying. Sheath dresses are actually one of the more professional & flattering looks for curvy women.

      1. Lizzy May*

        This. If I find a good sheath dress, it becomes a staple. If it comes in more than one colour, I buy both. I go back to that designer season after season. A good sheath dress is my ideal work outfit.

    3. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      I would have challenged my boss and asked if the other person was told that they were unprofessional as well. You can’t tell one person they can’t wear something because they have a different body type. Either ban it for everyone or no one.

    4. Keymaster of Gozer*

      Had the same thing happen. I think I was guilty of EWF (Existing While Fat). Still wore my lovely stretchy comfy black sheath dress :)

      1. MissDisplaced*

        Yeah. That is a problem, and sadly it often tends to come from other women. We all need to stop doing that.

        But I do think OP’s organization may need to reevaluate their dress code. I personally don’t think tank tops or shorts are professional attire no matter what sex wears them. People can still be casual without baring that much at work.

        And that shirtless client was just gross.

        1. Keymaster of Gozer*

          Either they say tank tops are banned across the board, or they’re fine for everyone. You just can’t say ‘because staff member X has a bigger body she shows too much flesh in this clothing, but thinner people do not, so she has to cover up more’

          That are the two main objections here as I see it:

          Telling a woman her body is inappropriate and distracting to men and demanding she do something about it.
          Telling a large chested woman that she needs different clothing rules to others because she’s shaped differently.

  6. Jenny*

    “One male client even picked up her video call completely naked waist up, which he never did to me, and I am worried it’s connected, since he is one of those who talked about it.”

    Fire that client immediately. That’s extremely not okay.

    Re: dress code. I work in a casual dress environment but we do have some rules like no flip flops, ripped jeans, or tank tops. If you want to refine it a bit, you can but you have to make it universal.

    1. Putting Out Fires, Esq.*

      I agree that saying “no tank tops” (for everyone) is not outrageous even in a casual office, but I don’t think OP has a tank top problem.

      1. Zombeyonce*

        Yep, outlawing tank tops will not remove this problem. Women with large breasts live with this problem in any type of shirt. I could wear a potato sack and people will know I have a large chest.

          1. Shakti*

            Even buying tips 1 size up doesn’t work and I look like I’m drowning in my clothes it isn’t a great solution for many people

            1. MsM*

              Yeah, I already have to buy bigger tops a lot of the time just to make sure they fit at all. Going up any further usually means you can see my bra through my sleeves or some other variety of wardrobe malfunction. And while I can afford tailoring if I have to, that’s a) not an option for everyone, and b) kinda ridiculous if it more than doubles the cost of the top.

          2. AnonToday*

            But when I do this the shirts hang on me like a tent. So it’s either cleavage or a tent. For someone who already has self esteem and body issues, both can be difficult.
            I’m done having kids so as soon as I lose this extra weight I’m headed to the dr for a reduction consults.

          3. Jessen*

            I’m petite, slim, and busty. Buying tops one size up usually just means all my cleavage is hanging out because the neckline is now too low. And I refuse to wear tank tops under everything in summer.

            1. Birdie*

              I feel your pain – I have shortened the shoulder area of many shirts so that my cleavage is not hanging out. If I buy a sleeveless top/dress in a size that won’t be too fitted on my breasts, I just assume I’m going to need to shorten the straps because it’s pretty much guaranteed to be too long from shoulder to armpit. And sometimes there’s a shirt I think I can get away with not altering only to wear it and realize I was wrong (and then spending the entire day self-consciously pulling up the neckline, ugh)

            2. Paperwhite*

              Yes, this. I’m not slim, but I am small and busty, and a one-size-larger top means the neckline goes too low. And I heartily second “I should not be required to wear extra layers in summer”.

            3. Mily*

              That happened to me once in a very fancy shirt. I went to work in a shirt I had never worn before so didn’t realize it was a smidge loose, the straps were a smidge too long, and the embellishments on the front meant it would constantly slide down. I had a blazer on over it, but I think every single person who visited our office saw my bra cups that day. Lucky for me, it was a plastic surgeon’s office, and as the nurse told me, “It might be too much boob for work, but it’s not too much boob to work here.” Anyway, I am much more careful about tailoring now.

    2. Amethystmoon*

      Right. I wouldn’t wear a tank top, but I am well-endowed and also have flabby arms. So yeah, change the rules if you want to, but make them fair for everyone.

      1. Mimi Me*

        YES! I used to work for a clothing store. I bought a sweater in the store that I worked in. It was one of those crochet styles that had large, loose holes. The sweater was meant to be worn with a camisole or tank top underneath it. I’m busty. I wore the sweater to work with a same colored tank top underneath. A co-worker with a slimmer figure wore the same sweater the same way I did on the same day. Only one of us got talked to about their “inappropriat” outfit. I was so livid I ended up finding a new job within the week. If that were to happen now (25 years later) I’d be very vocal about things: this is the body I was given, I’m not changing it and have worked hard to be happy within it. I do my best with clothing but sometimes work appropriate and full coverage don’t come together on the same top. It’s not up to me to control how others react to a damn pair of breasts. Goodness this letter made me mad!!!

    3. I'm a Lumberjack!*

      Exactly. Fire the client.
      Because the amount of money you lose from them will pale in comparison with the lawsuit settlement I will be awarded from your lack of protection!

  7. Ashley*

    Many offices have a different dress code for employees who have meetings or working with clients vs days and employees who are just at their desk and their work is solitary.
    The dress code could me modified to saying no tank tops when meeting with clients and having everyone keep a t-shirt to throw on for meetings with non-employees / video calls. This would need to be universally enforced however and you may still need to shut down inappropriate comments from others.

    1. Rainy*

      I wear a small-band H cup and trust me, you can still tell the tracts of land are enormous in a tee. There is literally no comfortable way to disguise large breasts.

    2. Ann O'Nemity*

      Yeah, this could work. I’m a fan of the “no tank top” rule anyway, because I don’t want to see armpits at work.

  8. Blackcat*

    So your options are to let her wear the tank top or ban them from everyone.
    I don’t know what your company’s general dress code is, but if it’s fine for other people to wear tank tops, then it’s fine for her to do so.

    As someone who is a 30F/G…. it’s really, really hard to dress in a way that does not emphasize my boobs. I spent like $400 when I was interviewing for jobs while breastfeeding (and was a 32J/K, which is a bra size, not a joke) on clothes and tailoring to make me look adequately professional given the boob situation.

    I know you are a woman too, but unless you’re way up there in boob size, it’s hard to understand just how hard it is to dress “appropriately” when you’ve got boobs the size of actual melons.

    1. many bells down*

      My sister is built like that; tiny band size/big cup size and it’s so difficult for her to find professional clothes. She’s resorted to duct-taping herself into her wedding dress because she couldn’t find a bra that worked with the neckline.
      Also she’s gay, so she sure as hell doesn’t want the male attention everyone seems to think she wants just by…existing with breasts.

      1. Blackcat*

        I got a very “conservative” wedding dress entirely because my #1 requirement was “must be able to wear a regular bra.” That eliminated 99% of dresses. But I wanted to be comfortable at my wedding! And my regular bras are already the price of fancy wedding-dress bras!

        1. AnonInTheCity*

          Yup, me too. I ended up going with a skirt and t-shirt combo because I literally could not find a wedding dress that fit my two requirements: pockets and able to wear with a regular bra.

        2. Hiya*

          My genius seamstress tailored my strapless dress so well I was completely supported without a bra. That lady was awesome

        3. EchoGirl*

          I’m literally planning to buy the least expensive bra in my (or close to my) size I can find and cut it up to stitch into my dress, because I want to be able to wear a low-back dress but I also don’t want to spend the day fighting some half-assed semblance of a bra.

      2. Artemesia*

        This may be a need for having clothes tailored. I don’t have the bust issues but my tiny waist and wide hips as a young woman meant nothing ever fit. And I am also tallish and so things didn’t fit in length or waistline either. I am sorry that I discovered so late in life that I could buy things that fit the largest part and have them tailored to fit well — would have saved me years of looking frumpy because things bagged at the waist or were too short.

        If your proportions don’t fit standard proportions like tiny waist, big breasts or wide hips, small waist etc, then tailoring may be the only way you can look good in clothes.

        1. Chinook*

          I have to agree with the tailoring thing. It is not fair, I know, but I just bought a dress for 9 year old niece online and she didn’t fit any standard sizing chart, so I paid extra to have it fit her measurements. I suspect that she has never owned anything that actually fit right and look forward to seeing a spike in self esteem once she realizes that it is the clothes and not her body that is the problem. I know that is what happened to me when I was in my 30’s.

          1. Quill*

            I’m putting off a variety of mending and home-tailoring chores at the moment: pants tend to only fit me in the thighs and shirts only fit me in the shoulders, but pants are far, far worse to deal with than taking in the sides of a shirt. So I’ve resorted to patching the thigh holes of my pants instead of trying fruitlessly to find more that fit.

        2. DarnTheMan*

          I am all in on tailoring if you can find a good one; I have wider hips/thighs and a narrower waist so regularly have the dreaded waistband gap. My tailor recently put darts into the waist of my favorite pair of jeans and I was amazed at how much more put together I look when the waistband isn’t constantly shifting around.

      1. Blackcat*

        When I’m a woman interviewing for tenure track jobs in a field that is 90% male, you better believe I’m going to do my best to hide my boobs.

        In an ideal world, yeah, people looking at my boobs is their issue, not mine. In the real world, I’m going to go to great pains to have a sufficiently modest appearance when it matters professionally.

  9. Rainy*

    As someone with extremely large breasts, there is nothing reasonable I can do to hide that my extremely large breasts exist. I could wear a binder, I suppose, but I also have asthma that is sometimes exacerbated by constrictive clothing. My asthma qualifies as an ADA disability, whereas someone else’s discomfort that my breasts are extremely large does not.

    Talk to the client and make it clear that this behaviour is unacceptable. You should be shielding your employee from harassment based on something she can’t help, not encouraging your clients to comment on your employees’ bodies.

    1. Loey*

      As someone with extremely large breasts who regularly wears a binder, I can tell you it doesn’t do much to change the size.. just the shape. So I still get cleavage, but it hides inside my binder, and my chest shape is flat at the front rather than rounded.
      I agree with you that the problem here is not the clothing. The problem is the client.

  10. Ravenahra*

    Thank you for this response. I’m large chested and can verify that it’s not just tank tops that accentuate my chest. Pretty much anything I wear accentuates it including t-shirts. Button down shirts are just impossible!
    So thank you for supporting that it’s not the woman’s fault that her body fits in clothes the way it does.

      1. Rainy*

        There are companies that routinely include the insurance snap to prevent the button popping open! You can also buy them (they’re just invisible snaps) and sew them in yourself or have your tailor/seamstress put them in.

    1. Blackcat*

      So they are $$, but I would like to plug the button down shirts available on Bravissimo. I have one that I wear when I need to look extra professional. I have a 4 “super curvy” which fits my petite body/large chest combo really well. I’ll drop a link in a reply.

        1. Jaybeetee*

          Thanks for this! I’ve entirely given up on button-downs (either they fit my bust but hang like a tent everywhere else, or they fit everywhere else but I’m bursting at the chest like a naughty librarian), but if someone is finally *designing* for this – I’ll check it out!

          1. Tabby*

            Jay, a trick that works for me is men’s button downs! For some reason they actually fit better. I’m obese, but my ribcage/chest is fairly small compared to my breasts, and the tailoring in men’s shirts fits my torso better than women’s. I don’t know why that works, but it does. Get a couple from a thrift store so that you can try different brands without spending a ton of money. Of course, I also wear them as tunics, so that might change things a bit.

            1. Artemesia*

              I am surprised that a men’s cut would work with large breasts, but I discovered years ago that in turtlenecks, a men’s small works for me. I am tall and so have long arms and torso and if I get a woman’s large it is just wide on me and still often too short in the arms. A man’s small fits snugly but has the length and fits me perfectly. Discovered the same with Uniqlo fleeces where the women’s versions exposed my back at the waist and the men’s are perfect and since I use them for warmth around a cold house in winter.

          2. virago*

            If you’re in the US, two small companies that get good reviews for their button-down shirts for the busty are Campbell & Kate and Exclusively Kristen. (I’d link but my comment would get hung up in moderation.)

        2. willow for now*

          Ha! That model looks like maybe a B cup. Why on earth would they not have a busty model to model their shirts for busty women?

          1. Blackcat*

            Their whole website does that! Like, buy this G cup bra, modeled by a lovely woman with A cup boobs.
            But I promise the shirt works for my boobs! And I am like a short barbie doll in terms of my proportions.

          2. TechWorker*

            A lot of my wardrobe comes from bravissimo as it’s basically the only place that sells dresses that fit me :) From other photos I would guess that model is a D-E cup.. certainly not a B – but clothes obviously still look a bit different to how they do on G/H/J cup.

      1. Pippa K*

        Yes! This is the only place I buy button-down shirts now. Be aware, though, that the white ones can be a bit more sheer than you’d expect – I hope they fix that someday.

        But as others have said, the problem here isn’t “my employee is dressing inappropriately,” it’s “my employee is the target of sexism and harassment.” Solve the problem you have; don’t make up a different problem for her to solve.

    2. Eleanor Konik*

      I don’t know if this will help you, but I’m going to throw it out there because I was depressingly well into my 30s before I learned this trick: Women’s button-down shirts seem to be, for reasons I can’t fathom, designed specifically to “accentuate” boobs in such a way that the buttonholes always gape, even if they’re two sizes too big on me everywhere else. But men’s button-down shirts fit me perfectly, tuck in nicely, and even accentuate my figure nicely. Obviously not everyone will have the same experience, but I’m moderately large-chested (not terribly so, somewhere in the 38-40C/D range depending on brand) and when I just started buying men’s button-downs I started feeling way more professional and put-together and attractive.

      1. Oryx*

        Yes, I’ve had to wear button downs for trade shows and always had our events person order me a men’s button down for this reason

        1. Kimmybear*

          Had an HR person order shirts for a trade show and many women complained about the style that was selected because it didn’t work for anyone larger than a size 4 or B-cup. I had to wear a tank top underneath and just not button the top buttons.

      2. Caramel & Cheddar*

        Women’s clothing is generally designed to accommodate a B-cup chest, which is why you either get button gapping or (if you buy a size to accommodate your full bust measurement) no gapping but you’re swimming in the shoulder area. The average American with boobs is a D cup, I think, so it’s easy to see how most clothing designed for women is designed for considerably less than half the population.

      3. Quickbeam*

        I’m a 32H, I wear men’s button downs all the time. The reason is that men are expected to have a larger chest dimension. I literally fly out of a misses 16 but a Men’s large? Perfect fit.

      4. BethDH*

        Any of you with experience with men’s button downs know how to deal with the extra length (or are you all tall)? I’d love to try this but I’m short-waisted and just don’t know what to do with the extra fabric.
        I only recently discovered that I love men’s long sleeve shirts for not being stretched over the chest. Slim or narrow fit ones actually work well for me as there’s still enough chest breadth even in larger sizes. They’re almost always heavier material which really helps too.

        1. Atlantian*

          They make them now specifically to be worn untucked, which I believe are shorter waisted than the ones with the tails for tucking in properly. Maybe try those? Also, if you’re buying ones that have a collar, chest and sleeve size, the ones with shorter length long sleeves should also be shorter waisted. But, you’re only really going to find that at a place that is also selling the tailoring, like a suit shop or a high end department store.

        2. virago*

          Plagiarizing my own comment from upthread: Two small businesses owned and operated by busty women — Campbell & Kate and Exclusively Kristen — make button up shirts that get a lot of good reviews.

          (Darlene, of Campbell & Kate, has a short waist and wears a 32G bra, so she definitely gets it! I wear a 36F/FFf — used to be a 34F — and I have very little space between my collarbone and my ribcage or between my ribcage and my hips. I rely on the Panache Sculptresse Chi-Chi in 36F or the Curvy Kate Ellace in 38E — the band runs tight — to make sure that my girls get enough lift that it’s apparent that I actually havea waist.)

          I was going to push the button on a nice shirt for myself when the pandemic became A Thing and I started working from home. But when we go back to the office, I’m definitely going to invest in a shirt from one of these two companies.

      5. Artemesia*

        I would think you could also have them tailored a bit at the waist if necessary if they fit otherwise.

    1. Amethystmoon*

      Yeah, that was inappropriate. I hope he at least gets written up for it and it goes into his file permanently.

  11. Shay*

    “But if your employee is adhering to your dress code, please don’t make clients’ comments her problem. Address it with the people making the comments; their behavior is the issue, not the fact that people can tell a woman has larger breasts.”
    [and I can’t believe OP is a woman]

      1. CupcakeCounter*

        Same. My mom is an “almost a-cup” and my sister and I (both adopted) are E and H cups. She literally does not get it. She makes comments every so often about why “our boobs are always hanging out” (which they aren’t) and we ended up dragging her to the mall a few years back and all 3 of us tried on the same 4 or 5 tops so she could see the difference in how things looked on the different bodies. We could practically see the light bulb moment when she realized that we weren’t doing it on purpose. Just how things worked.

        1. Julia*

          My mother and I are both E cups and she still makes comments about my breasts. Growing up, it was “cover up your boobs, your brother can see you!”, then it was “why do you dress like a nun?” when I wore a high neck shirt.

    1. Putting Out Fires, Esq.*

      I can. As someone who is petite and well-endowed in the chest, I mainly get comments from other women, usually in the guise of “oh just so you know.” Welcome when it’s “one of your buttons popped”, less welcome when it’s “you have a large chest and people are staring.”

      Men either look away or leer, they rarely say anything “constructive.”

      I started wearing tanks under my shirts when I breastfed my first child and I haven’t gone back. The button-popping becomes less of an issue (and since I’m short, the “staring down the front of my shirt to my bellybutton” thing is also covered nicely) but it can get warm.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        I’ve had, from other women, “well, you had to expect crude comments looking like THAT” or “you’ll get attacked looking like that in public”.

        1. Putting Out Fires, Esq.*

          Yeah an older woman told me once that I was going to lead married men astray looking like that. I laughed at her face. She didn’t speak to me again after that.

              1. Rainy*

                Oh, I remember those days in my missing-stair filled late-teenage/early-twenties hobby group! The really disturbing thing about it is that I looked about 15 when I was 19 and all those dudes were still hitting on me. Yikes.

    2. Esmeralda*

      “I can’t believe OP is a woman”

      Really. How is a snarky comment like this helping the OP? OP came to get help with the situation, has told clients to cut the comments, and is worried about how to handle it.

      OP has not yet done enough, and, as Alison points out, needs to look at the situation differently and address it differently. If OP replies, “No way, it’s the employee’s fault” then we’ve got a reason to be angry or shocked or disappointed about.

      It would be a lot more helpful to support people who are trying to learn and do better, than to put them down for not knowing or for not being good enough.

    3. Roeslein*

      I’m an A-cup (there’s improvement, I was an AA-cup before pregnancy!) and I can usually wear cleavage down to my belly button without anyone noticing. I’m exaggerating, but I can get away with serious cleavage even at work without it looking remotely sexy. Honestly, being a 32C while breastfeeding was a shock. Suddenly – I had boobs and clothes I had been wearing without second thoughts started looking “sexy”. It was eye-opening. (Also, I was only ever able to find a nursing bra by ordering it from China, because apparently in Europe smaller women don’t get pregnant and also don’t breastfeed – but that’s another issue.)

  12. Dust Bunny*

    Fire the shirtless dude. Nobody needs that.

    That said: My office’s dress code is pretty relaxed but I would not wear a tank top except as a liner for another top, and the LW doesn’t specify what kind of tank tops, but some of them definitely cover more than others. There are the kind with wider straps made of actual fabric, and there are the spaghetti-strap camisole types. For me this is less of a body issue than a “that is too informal for work” issue. If she’s wearing the former, I’d let it go (and tell commentors to mind their own business). If it’s the camisole type, I don’t think anyone, regardless of size, should be wearing those to work, anyway, without something over them, but it would have to be a blanket rule.

    Side note: I’ve been seeing a lot of grousing about schools not allowing tank tops. My school district didn’t, but it wasn’t about girls showing too much body–it was about school not being the beach. They absolutely sent boys home for the same infractions (tank tops, short shorts, etc.).

    1. Catosaur*

      My high school didn’t allow tank tops but we also didn’t have air conditioning, and Virginia weather in June is pretty gross.

      What that basically meant was that we wore tank tops anyway but school personnel got to pick and choose who they felt like punishing for dressing inappropriately.

      I feel so bad for the employee in this letter.

      1. PhD in Civil(ity)*

        yes! I went to a 3500+ student public HS in Arizona and its *never* about enforcing the dress code equally. For the record, our dress code straight out of the handbook was a full page graphic of a couple dress code inappropriate things like bikinis and men’s boxers with the caption “No Butts, Boobs, or Bellies”.

        and despite the fact that we had 3500 kids the security and teachers knew whose parents were lawyers or particularly protective and those kids never got dress coded bc they knew they would get push back and that they couldn’t win against the parents. always the kids whose parents weren’t there to stand up for their kids to get dress coded. (and by kids I mean girls)

        1. virago*

          and despite the fact that we had 3500 kids the security and teachers knew whose parents were lawyers or particularly protective and those kids never got dress coded bc they knew they would get push back and that they couldn’t win against the parents. always the kids whose parents weren’t there to stand up for their kids to get dress coded. (and by kids I mean girls)

          This says so many things, none of them good. I wish I could somehow send retroactive sympathy vibes to every girl who was dress coded: “It’s not your fault — it’s really tough to fight body shaming plus misogyny plus classism when you’re the student and they’re the administrator.”

      2. Mily*

        My friend’s middle school banned tank tops because the girls’ bra straps were too distracting, so one enterprising girl got the VP to agree that tank tops were ok as long as no bra straps were displayed, and then they all stopped wearing bras.

    2. Jay*

      That’s unusual. My daughter’s middle school allowed boys to wear muscle shirts and tank tops. My daughter, who is slim, was never tagged for wearing shorts. Her heavier classmates were tagged for wearing exactly the same clothes. So she and her friends created a (silent, non-disruptive) protest. They wore signs that basically said “we’re dressing to be comfortable because it’s hot out. Tell the boys to keep their eyes to themselves.”

      The science teacher (THE SCIENCE TEACHER) spent the entire class period lecturing the class about the need for the dress code. She (yes SHE) told them that “it’s biology – boys are just wired that way” and “if you bare your legs and arms, you’re telling people it’s OK to touch you there.” My kid: “No one touches my body without permission.” Teacher: “It’s like putting food out on a plate – you just want to eat it.” My kid: “Did you just compare my body to FOOD?”

      My husband worked in professional development and knew the teacher. He wrote an Email that was an absolute masterpiece and concluded “As a man and a scientist, I can tell you that the boys have eyes, hands, and mouths that are all under their voluntary control because they are skeletal muscle.” Our kid reported the next day: “She said she didn’t say it. BUT SHE SAID IT.”

      This stuff makes me VERY VERY ANGRY.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        I’m guessing the teacher had their face bare? Must mean it’s okay to slap it!

        Just….god I’m glad I don’t have kids if this stuff is still going on. Hope your daughter is ok?

  13. RogueVirago*

    I’m not sure I’d be so confident that the topless client was only naked from the waist up. And it’s horrendous either way. This is a much more serious problem than just having a conversation about wearing clothes.

  14. Ravenahra*

    Yep, hiding a big chest is pretty much impossible and a bunch of regular clothes just don’t work. Any button down shirt that fits me in the shoulders always gaps across the chest. And anything with a typical low neck or v neck are completely out because my body stretches the front and creates cleavage when it would be perfectly hidden on a smaller chest.

    People just don’t understand the difficulties being built like this causes. I even have to explain it to my husband at times why I have a hard time finding clothes.

    And the inappropriate comments from both men and women who seem to think I’m accentuating my chest on purpose suck.

    Luckily, I currently work in a place where it’s never been commented on or a problem. I’m in a very healthy work environment that insists on fun but respectful behavior.

    1. Delta Delta*

      I’m just busty enough that button down shirts either look like graduation robes or I have to pin them together with a bunch of safety pins. It’s annoying.

      1. Artemesia*

        Get them tailored if you want to wear them. Seriously with figure issues that don’t precisely fit standard proportions, tailoring while not cheap is a godsend. I’d rather have 3 shirts that fit that I can throw in the washer a couple of times a week than 6 that are baggy or make buttons pop.

        1. Ravenahra*

          I currently have 2 men’s shirts at the tailor’s. I’m hoping it works better. I was trying them on for a steampunk photo shoot and almost cried because I looked so frumpy. So I’m trying the tailoring route for the first time. It’s expensive but if it works, I will probably do it for more of my wardrobe.

  15. Bernice Clifton*

    I’m a bosom-y woman, and a little unique in that I have only been for a few years. I was very small and in my mid-30s I gained weight and went up 4 cup sizes, so I haven’t been dealing with it since puberty like most women. I used to think woman with a large chest could automatically tell if it was low cut when she first put it on*, but now I know that as you move and shift the neckline can move and shift as well. Women aren’t robots.

    * I never thought women deserved stares or comments or anything like that no matter what, though.

  16. Becca M*

    Really, unless she was wearing lingerie as a top, this is not on her to solve. Other people are choosing to objectify her body and it is your job to protect her from that kind of harassment in the workplace.
    And even if she did wear lingerie as a top, it doesn’t mean she’s asking to be harassed. That just isn’t work appropriate for anyone, and so I used that as an example of a wardrobe change you could ask her to make.

  17. BigRedGum*

    i am feeling super angry at your client! I am plus sized and everyone in my office wears leggings pretty frequently, so i do too. i don’t look as cute as the skinny people, but i don’t care, as long as i don’t look in appropriate. I really, really want you to lay the smack down on your client. what a disgusting ass.

  18. JerryTerryLarryGary*

    I think the fact you didn’t notice her clothing until clients started saying something is pretty key. Work on some scripts to shut it down, and make sure your employee knows to come to you if it continues.

    1. Firecat*

      Yes I was coming here to say that the OP is very much perpetuating rape culture. Specifically with the comment that she believes that the guys extremely inappropriate, boundary crossing, sexually harrasing behavior towards her employee is “probably” connected to the employee wearing tank tops.

      I’m not saying the OP is a bad person, in fact rape culture is taught young in school in the US. Girls are shamed and punished for boys negative behaviors towards them all the time. From dress codes that focus on “distraction” free clothing that ban shorts and tank tops but allows boys to sport Conan the Barbarian tees, to ignoring boys who snap bra straps, but cracking down when the girl finally has enough and slaps him, all the way to period shaming. It’s a thing that seeps in and it’s important to name it.

      1. Delphine*

        This is not rape culture. It’s boilerplate sexism. Please don’t use rape culture as a blanket term for misogyny. It’s a specific concept.

  19. Keymaster of Gozer*

    I’ve worn a tank top under a suit jacket on numberous occassions, the suit jacket usually to cover my tattoos, and unless there is a big UK/US difference in what constitutes a ‘tank top’ I can’t really see how you can have more coverage short of demanding turtlenecks/scarves/cloaks for anyone who is top heavy. One place I was at did try to say ‘no visible curves at all’ which is impossible if you’re large chested. Can’t really leave boobage in the desk drawer during the day.

    Said it before to employers, will say it again here: if someone is really bothered to the point of complaint that large chested women exist and feels they can’t work if ‘exposed’ to that fact then they’re far far too immature to be holding down a job.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        It was ‘no visible curve of the breast allowed’ apparently. Which, as I pointed out, was literally impossible for me unless I wore a turtleneck sweater and the last time I’d done that they’d had a go at me for ‘wearing tight clothing’

        1. Rainy*

          Where does one buy a work-appropriate refrigerator box, and can you cut the holes for your head and arms yourself, or do you need to have a tailor do that.

    1. Jaybeetee*

      I own tank tops that provide coverage, but others that are quite, um, boobular. I’ve noticed a distinct difference between camis with shelf-bras versus without shelf-bras, and from experience, I need to wear the latter if I don’t want half my chest hanging out.

      1. Putting Out Fires, Esq.*

        And they’re so hard to find! So whenever I find a bra-less cami I buy…all of them, really.

        1. AnotherAlison*

          I’m waayyy on the other end of the spectrum, and I also don’t like the built-in ones. I have two kids. I still can’t wear just the cami by itself, and why would I want more elastic squeezing me on top of a bra? My 12 year old self could have worn one, but I’d love to hear if any adult women like these .

          1. Rainy*

            I like them, if the shelf bra actually comes down far enough to accommodate my anatomy.

            They are AMAZING for yoga, and I also used to sleep in them, because a little support is nice sometimes, but not too much. I wouldn’t wear them to work though!

            1. Librarian of SHIELD*

              Yeah, I only wear the shelf bra tanks for sleeping. They provide just enough support for lounging around the house, but not nearly enough for doing anything else.

              1. Rainy*

                For yoga I wear them over a yoga bra, I should say. They don’t provide enough support on their own, but they’re a nice little extra when you want to be extra snug.

          2. Jackalope*

            I like them, but I’m a weird size where they actually provide the right support. I wear them almost exclusively in winter when I want an extra layer.

    2. Bagpuss*

      Also UK – I think a tank top is sleeveless – basically a vest-top, so can often have minimal straps and may be thinner fabric

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        Oh those? I’ve definitely worn those under a suit jacket to work. I overheat like crazy if I’m wearing sleeves under a suit jacket or if I’m buttoned up to the neck.

        Basically I’ve got a rule that it shouldn’t show bra cups from an angle.

        1. londonedit*

          Yes I think ‘tank top’ in the UK usually means one of those sleeveless jumpers (sweaters), whereas in the US it means what we’d call a ‘strappy top’ or a ‘vest top’, something with thin straps that’s probably made of cotton or a stretchy fabric.

          1. PuzzledPuzzler*

            I’m in the US and to me, a tank top would be something with thicker straps (an inch or more), while a camisole has spaghetti straps and is more of a lingerie or layering item. A “shell” extends to the edge of the shoulder and is worn with a suit jacket or a sweater, which can be removed in the heat. Basically the top half of a sheath dress.

    3. Grace*

      “no visible curves”

      I’m getting flashbacks to my old school (UK – uniforms as standard) where their answer to people wearing leggings as a get-around to the “navy trousers” part of the uniform was to instruct that trousers “should not hug any part of the leg from the hip downward”. So… clown trousers?

    4. Daffy Duck*

      “No visible curves” LOL! I could wear a square sack two sizes larger and you would be able to tell I have curves. Like Rainy, I’l have to build a solid cover.

      1. Crivens!*

        Right. I am capital C CURVY (and I love that about myself) and I’ve never found something I can wear that hides that.

    5. Observer*

      No visible curves at all? What kind of insanity is that?

      Actually, I don’t think it’s insanity, I think it’s a “neutral” rule intended to make the workplace utterly inhospitable to women. Because that’s rule that VERY few women could actually adhere to.

        1. virago*

          The railway industry held tighter to its sexism than my bra straps did to my shoulders.

          You’ve been killing it all over this post today. Please tell me that you write and that your writing has been published. As a journalist whose job entails a great deal of editing, I live for observations that make their point in so few words.

    6. KoiFeeder*

      I’m built like a rectangle and I don’t think I could do “no visible curves” unless I wore a hoodie-hoop skirt combo. Someone with a normal human body would have a real hard time of it.

    7. Trixie, the Great and Pedantic*

      No visible curves? Is that even geometrically possible? Exactly what dimension were your employers from, Flatland?

  20. Angela S*

    Oof, it’s a tough one!

    You can’t penalize your staff if there’s no written rule indicating expicity that tank tops are not allowed.

    As with the clients – I think you or your employers need to rethink the type of clients you want to work with. If they wanted to be almost shirtless during video calls, they couldn’t demand you to dress shirts and ties. That goes both ways. I work in a corporate environment so we do have a dress code, but we also expect our clients to dress in a certain way when they interact with us. So, I agree with Alison that the issue is with the clients.

    1. Brett*

      Pretty sure clients in this case means people receiving social services from the agency, not people who are paying customers in some form. The issue may be with the clients, but holding the clients to consequences for their actions may be more difficult than in a normal corporate environment.

  21. The Happy Graduate*

    As someone who is also a large-chested/small-band woman, I can second the above comments that it’s hard to find clothes that are appropriate for work but also fit properly and that even things that are super “covered up” like turtlenecks will still make it extra obvious what you’re “hiding”.
    But there are also work-appropriate tank tops available – they’re button up or at least end not much below the collarbone, so the employee can still be comfortable in the heat but also remove a bit of the distraction. I wear them myself regularly under blazers or on their own in the summer. So she does have options while staying with the dress code. And let’s be real, everyone notices when someone is bigger-chested and wearing something lowcut, those of us in the same place or otherwise – it’s just the jerks who make a big deal of it instead of ignoring that make it an issue.

    Also, yeah get rid of that sleazy gross client ASAP.

  22. Jaybeetee*

    I have a larger chest myself, and back when I was going into the office, I also had a knack of forgetting the wear the “work-appropriate boobs” to work, as opposed my regular, unprofessional boobs.

    That said, personally I think the answer varies based on just what the issue is here. Is it just that you can see the shape of her bust? Or are we talking a ton of cleavage here? (Yes, my cleavage also starts about an inch under my collarbone, so a lot of generally work-appropriate shirts show some on me – but if I was wearing something super low-cut, I’d expect to be spoken to about it).

    I do think there’s room to talk if clothing is very low-cut, very tight-fitting, or otherwise provocative. It’s just not clear if that’s what’s happening in this letter, or if this is an “existing with a large chest” problem.

    What it does suggest to LW is that it might be time to review the dress code policy. Even very laid-back places I’ve worked didn’t generally allow tank tops for a reason. If you have a dress code that some people can adhere to, but still seem “inappropriate”, perhaps that suggests it’s time for a retool.

    1. Aquawoman*

      If you’re making a rule based on cleavage rather than based on the item of clothing, that IS an “existing with a large chest” problem. You can’t make it collarbone-height for curvy women and 2 inches lower than that for everyone else.

    2. Snuck*

      I agree that it could be time to think through the dress code. Not just on cleavage and tank tops, but step back and look at any other issues that have come up as well, if you look there could be others. A review could be as simple as saying “no tight fitting clothing, no clothing with a low cut front that when you bend down to a screen camera shows more than face on view, shoes that are closed toe and appropriate for the physical work, flat shoes/no heels for physical work tasks, blah blah blah”. A ‘relaxed’ code is still possible with some professional boundaries in place. It can be the same for men and women (no woman wants to stare at a man’s navel via their v neck either on a video call!).

      I have the distinct impression that the code of “known to be direct” and the fact that ‘clients’ (code for patients accessing non medical services) could relate to people with mental health or developmental delays. If this is the case then I’d challenge the idea that you cannot police employee’s bodies – if the clients are from a vulnerable group then the professionalism needs to ratchet up a few notches to ensure the clients are experiencing a ‘safe and professional’ encounter at all times. The fact that they are commenting and boundary pushing on this (shirtless dude) suggests they have poor professional understandings, so in this case an expectation of how a person presents and shows their ‘clients’ the ‘normal way of working’ is preferred. The other thing is if these employees are professional then they need to reduce distractions and work on having their clients in an attentive and balanced space in all communications – as part of a therapy model. If the client doesn’t have the self control to stop staring at your cleavage then yes, you can fire the client, but you are firing them for something they are mentally incapable of fixing, and the reason they have sought your expertise and support out to learn…. Why are you working in a role if you cannot professionally step up to the needs of your clients? This doesn’t mean ‘policing the employee body’ as much as saying “the professional norms for working with clients with zero social filter is such that while you can dress casually you cannot wear tshirts with polarising slogans or images, you cannot wear clothing that designates political messages (including pro/anti life, GLBTQI messages or other ) and you cannot wear other distracting items. If a number of clients find your outfits distracting then you will need to find something that doesn’t cause that distraction. That’s not policing the body, that’s policing your professional wardrobe choice.

      1. Julia*

        Are you saying that seeing breasts is unsafe for the clients, so OP’s employee should cover up? And that identifying as LGBTQ+/wearing a rainbow flag is political?

        1. Anon for this*

          No, not unsafe… Assuming you mean “a covered up public and socially normal level of coverup” And not gym wear in an office setting, or night club wear in a school.

          I’m saying if you are working with a vulnerable and developmentally/mentally/intellectually disabled group you should probably make a really strong effort to a) understand their limitations and realise that professionally you have a responsibility to work with them within those limitations, and yes, this could include modifying your dress, language, physical approach etc based on your clients needs. While you have a right to wear whatever you want, your clients have a right to not be distracted or confused about what they are there to do with you. And to say “They should learn to not say this thing” is EXACTLY why they are ‘clients’ and in a setting like this! If multiple clients are talking about your sexiness, and going topless etc, ones that don’t have a history of this, then it seems you’ve got to rethink your pitch/positioning.

          b) these people are highly likely to have different ‘filters’ and behaviours and are seeking help to learn to operate in the ‘normal’ world and yes, you will need to help them learn how to handle different situations within ‘normal expectations’. This can include not ‘blurring the lines’ between what is commonly accepted in your community, and not accepted… for example if you are in an area that has people identifiable by specific clothing as belonging to select groups, encouraging a person with limited social understanding to understand the choices they make in what they wear could have consequences and impacts, and teaching them to navigate this choice, and yes this could include short skirts or red bandanas or Everelast tracksuits or clothes with political statements. Wearing overt items can send a message, and your wearing them in a therapy setting would be ‘normalising them’ which is awesome, but you are wearing them as a person who is aware of the implications and capable of managing them, has the person who now thinks it’s normal to wear this got the same skills?

          Also that your own personal beliefs and values aren’t necessarily part of their therapeutic program, best to steer well clear of that stuff. For example there is no need to wear a pro/anti life t shirt to work, unless you work in a decidedly related field. If you are wearing it to make a statement, then are you saying the statement is more important than the emotionally/socially/intellectually vulnerable people you are there to teach/counsel/support/mentor?

          Now… this is based on the assumption that the OP is working in a counselling, mentoring or advocacy or teaching service for people who are mentally, intellectually or developmentally disabled.

          If it’s the local sports physio, where it’s all torn tendons, then do whatever you want. Presuming the majority of your clients there are fully capable… different rules apply.

  23. Doctor Evil*

    I give harassment trainings and I use the *exact* scenario OP gives as a training example.

    What I tell my attendees: By suggesting that your EE wear something different, you are not suggesting that her clothing is inappropriate, you are suggesting that her *body* is inappropriate …and as a supervisor, this very suggestion could be construed as harassment.

    This response doesn’t just enable harassment by a client – dangerous in and of itself – but it walks a very perilous line. Not to mention that your EE has probably dealt with this kind of thing her whole life and doesn’t need to hear it from a boss as well. Please rethink this.

  24. Daffy Duck*

    I’m a DD and would put money on it is the bust to waist ratio that is the issue. It is extremely hard to find clothing that fits “professionally” in both areas, either it strains across the bust and fits at the lower ribs and waist or fits at the bust and I’m swimming everywhere else.
    For business clothing a tailor is your friend, but who wants to put in the time and $ for t-shirts and casual clothing? Also, as a young employee she may not have the bank account for that.
    This is all assuming she is wearing casual clothing similar to the others in the office and not clubbing outfits/skin-tight exercise clothing. You can certinly make a dress code, but it better by dog be enforced equeally across all members, the petite A cup doesn’t get to bop around in low cut outfits while the statuesque D has to dress like Aunt Maud.

  25. RussianInTexas*

    I have a chest size, lets say “vast tracks of land”. Bigger than DDD. Any tank top would accentuate it.
    I would want to be told. Not because I think it’s unfair, but I would want to know which of my clients are sleazy and jerks.
    I would probably cover up, but that is coming more from my own life-long insecurity stemming from people forever staring at my chest instead of my face, talking to my chest, and making comments about it.

  26. ILiveInScoobyDoosHouse*

    Even leaving aside the creepy client (but really, don’t…), as an otherwise petite woman who has very large breasts I can tell you how bloody difficult it is to dress them appropriately, especially for work. Shirts and blouses gape in the wrong places and pop open. T-shirts cling. Anything loose makes you look like a marquee. Summers are particularly bad as tops that read as fresh and summery on small-chested women read as ‘tarty’ on bigger-breasted women, plus the bigger, heavily engineered bras we have to wear aren’t covered well by them. High necks look matronly on us. And dresses just are not cut with breasts in mind in my experience, especially if the rest of you is two sizes smaller than your chest. Sigh. Then to have someone tell you that your natural body shape renders you ‘tarty’….

    But the creepy client. Ugh. There’s your problem, OP.

    1. Pretzelgirl*

      It is awful dressing for work with big boobs. Forget button downs at all. Unless you basically want them custom made. I am thankful that most of jobs have been casual or business casual. I can usually get away with a cute, flattering top and jeans.

      I had a job in college that required a button down. It was supplied by the company. The large fit me everywhere but the bust. So I wore a shell underneath and buttoned just below my breasts. I got in trouble for not adhering to the dress code. I had to order more shirts on my own dime (company only supplied you with 2). 2 sizes too big. Then was told, I must tailor them so they are fitted. I made $9.00 an hour in college. I spent like $100 on this venture. I quit shortly after.

  27. ragazza*

    I don’t think it’s appropriate for anyone to wear tank tops at work without a jacket or whatever, but aside from that, this sounds like more of a client problem.

    1. RussianInTexas*

      For an office job – I agree. However, if it’s a dresscode, it should be applied to everyone equally.
      Also, the clients are sleazy.

    2. Jennifer*

      I agree as well. Tank tops really aren’t appropriate for an office job without a cardigan or blazer. They should really make that a change across the board.

    3. Nanani*

      Well their dress code allows so your opinion on approriateness isn’t relevant.

      It is absolutely a client problem. Not a tank top problem.

    4. Great Grey Owl*

      I used to think the same thing until I experienced my first summer in Las Vegas. But people who sexually harass others will continue to do so regardless of the dress code.

  28. AnotherAlison*

    I think it is worth considering if the dress code is appropriate, and make changes if it is not (maybe next summer after this is not so fresh). It’s not unusual for companies to not allow tank tops or any sleeveless tops, even if jeans and t-shirts are allowed.

    Tank tops are not allowed within my company dress code, and there is one person who has an Outlook profile picture in a tank top. It’s kind of weird. Then that same person showed up on video with a client in a tank top. I don’t think it looked very professional. I don’t have any solid reason for opposing tank tops, but they’re more on the level with shorts and athletic wear, IMO, less like a t-shirt or jeans.

  29. LaDiDa*

    I currently am wearing a tank tshirt dress, just before getting on a video call I slip on an overshirt or cardigan. It isn’t about covering up my body, it is about presenting more professionally.

  30. A.N. O'Nyme*

    OP, if your subordinate is anything like me those breasts will show no matter what she wears, even if it’s a literal potato sack. As Allison said, this is something you need to address with the clients – show your subordinate (and all others who know of the situation) that you will not tolerate the sexual harassment of anyone in the company. Because that’s what it is – sexual harassment. I don’t care how “direct” your clients supposedly are, they are sexually harassing someone.
    Also, sexual harrassment isn’t “being direct”, it’s being a creep.
    Signed, someone who is also very direct.

    1. Putting Out Fires, Esq.*

      Yes, direct is saying “hey I can see your cleavage when you bend over.” Showing up without a shirt on is actually just straight harassment.

      I also work in public interest with complicated clients, so I get that it can be hard to balance, but it’s just not acceptable. At the very least, she and all of your employees should be empowered to shut down a zoom call immediately in that situation.

  31. mdv*

    As a woman with 44GGG chest …. I’d be outraged if someone said this to or about me. There is already enough societal pressure on women regarding their bodies, there is a reason why it is considered sexual harrassment.

    Just shut it down!

  32. That Girl from Quinn's House*

    Re: the inappropriate client.

    “Client” is often the term used by social workers or support workers for adults with special needs. We had a partnership with a program like this at my work: the program ran group homes, adult day care, recreation/social opportunities, and supportive work placements for adults with special needs, supervised by coaches. (Our partnership was the latter two, recreational opportunities and supportive work placements.)

    The coaches often did encounter inappropriate behavior from the clients, either client-on-client or client-on-coach because persons with special needs want to masturbate and date and have sexual relationships like all humans, but often lack the social filter to understand the appropriate time and place to do so. Handling this professionally and according to protocol was part of their job description.

    Just keep that in mind, the term “client” doesn’t always mean “big money formal business Wolf of Wall Street” client.

    1. Pretzelgirl*

      I thought the same thing. Given that this is a non-profit, I am guessing this is some kind of client/therapist/social worker relationship. Its possible she can’t “just fire him” based on this alone. But addressing is def the way to go.

    2. Observer*

      Yes, it’s quite probable that this is someone who is a recipient of services, not a paying customer. However, it’s worth noting that the non-profit sector provides a wide variety of services that have nothing to do with mental health. And that mental health issues are by and large not a cause for creepy behavior.

      Also, non-profits most definitely CAN “fire” clients, although they generally need to document why, when and how they decided to cut off services, and the bar may be fairly high. Ongoing harassment of staff definitely counts as a good reason to cut off services. The more egregious the harassment, the faster you can move.

  33. I edit everything*

    I’m curious if the “clients” are people being served by the non-profit (maybe a counseling service for people with low incomes, or something of the sort), or clients as in people who are paying the non-profit for something, like the relationship I (freelance editor) have with my clients (authors and publishers).

    That might make a difference in how LW addresses the clients and their comments. The dynamics are different, and if the clients are in need, and the non-profit is the only resource for those needs, then an instant “we can no longer serve you” might not be the best route.

    1. Specks*

      I’m assuming they’re the people the nonprofit serves. Being from the nonprofit world, I’ve never heard a consultant or supplier or donor referred to as a client… but maybe that’s different in different fields. Still, I agree with you – if this is someone in need, and it probably is, the “fire him” comments here are utterly unhelpful.

      1. Just Another Zebra*

        I disagree, to a point. OP should tell the client firmly “That kind of language is absolutely inappropriate in our place of business. Please refrain from commenting on our employees’ bodies. If this continues, I’ll have to reevaluate our business arrangement.” There should be an onus on the client to not be a creep.

        1. PennilynnLott*

          Social worker here, and I can 100% confirm that there are plenty of cases where we would not be able to correct the client beyond “please be sure to be fully dressed during video calls”. Mental health and various cognitive disabilities/dementias have led to some truly interesting interactions in my career, and there sometimes is just nothing to do but redirect! I’m thinking back to a care plan meeting with a lovely woman with dementia who saw my naturally fat tummy and decided to announce to her entire family that I was pregnant when I walked into the room…

          1. Just Another Zebra*

            Ah, I’ll be honest and say I didn’t consider that perspective.

            Even so, it isn’t right for OP to essentially blame her employee for having a body and excusing the client’s behavior – like a naked video call. She should be able to go to work and perform her job in the clothes all other staff members wear without feeling harassed or sexualized.

      2. Paperwhite*

        Is it in the client’s best interest to refuse to point out to them that their behavior is sexual harassment and to allow them to keep sexually harassing an employee? Eventually they may sexually harass someone who can inflict consequences. Regardless of whether or not employees should be required to put up with sexual harassment (so we can avoid that debate) couldn’t this become a ‘teachable moment’ for the client to give them useful information?

  34. BasicWitch*

    I have large boobs. The idea that I have large boobs makes me inherently more sexual, more “inappropriate”, and less serious than my peers has plagued me since I was 14. Imagine trying to wear kids clothes like your friends but with a big chest. Imagine adults treating your like a scandal… or worse, treating you, a child, like a flirtatious adult. Imagine going into adulthood and your career feeling like your perfectly healthy, functional body is betraying you and making you a target.

    OP, your employee is not the problem. Her body is not the problem. Please reframe this issue onto the real problem: misogyny.

    1. Deanna Troi*

      This is incredibly relatable. I don’t think people who haven’t experienced it realise how traumatic it can be to grow up large chested

    2. Blinded By the Gaslight*

      Same, same, same, BW. I was a full C by 13, DDD by 15, and I’m mid-alphabet now, LOLSOB. Family made comments, friends made comments, strangers made comments. Adults would just approach me and ask me if my boobs were real, make sexual comments to me, I mean . . . it’s a lot, especially from family saying things like, “GOD, put those things AWAY!” or “PEOPLE ARE STARING,” like, um, excuse me, I’m fully clothed, why am I the one being yelled at? Never once did my mom yell at a man who was staring at me, but she’d yell at me, in front of the man. -_-

      So yeah, this boss needs to address the sleazy clients, not blame her employee.

  35. Charlotte Lucas*

    The cleavage issue is even worse. Some of us carry our chest higher than others. Even in middle age, I still have a higher bosom than average.

  36. Specks*

    I just wanted to offer a perspective of someone who belongs to one of those communities where directness is considered a cultural norm. I can assure you that even though it is normal and strangers (yet along acquaintances or, god forbid, older relatives) in my country of origin will comment on others’ haircuts, bodies, weight etc to them, it is never truly kind and never welcome… it’s just something you have to put up with if that stranger happens to be older than you or in a different position of power. Some cultural traditions are just crap. And being exposed to a different culture regularly though you, OP, gives your clients an excellent opportunity to discard that particular crappy attribute. Be direct with them in turn and tell them plainly that in the US, commenting on people’s bodies is considered unkind and inappropriate. It’ll be a service to them (and others around them in the long run), trust me. My parents’ tendency towards directness didn’t exactly help them in their jobs in the US until they learned how to culturally adapt, and your clients are probably being hurt by making these comments in other settings than your nonprofit that won’t be as understanding of their culture.

  37. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

    If you can’t fire/turn away clients because you’re a nonprofit providing a necessary social service, my advice would be that anyone who complains loses the privilege of video calls. Make them do everything by voice and text–if you need to use Zoom or the like to do screen shares, you can leave the video camera off, or send them the images separately.

    The less obnoxious ones should probably get a warning that if they make any more such remarks, it will be voice-only, forever. Shirtless guy, if you can’t fire him, has used up any warnings: no more video for him, and if he complains about that, explain that this is to protect your staff from harassment.

    1. Specks*

      If this nonprofit serves immigrants whose first language isn’t English, being able to see visual clues is crucial to communication. It’s just really hard to speak a language you don’t speak well over the phone; a lot harder than in video or in person. So this might not be an option.

      1. Littorally*

        Okay? “Client doesn’t speak English well, therefore has free rein t0 continue making video calls naked” is not an appropriate response to the situation.

      2. Mockingjay*

        When a client harasses staff, the client loses these considerations. I’ve lived abroad and traveled widely amongst many cultures. In none of these places would appearing half naked on a video call be appropriate culturally. ESL is not an excuse for poor behavior.

        The client knows he’s being an ass; he’s counting on exactly this reaction (He’s a client we must serve!) to avoid any penalties.

        1. Observer*

          The client knows he’s being an ass; he’s counting on exactly this reaction (He’s a client we must serve!) to avoid any penalties.

          Exactly. OP, don’t reward this behavior.

          1. Specks*

            No one is saying to excuse this particular creep. I’m just saying that introducing a policy that shuts down video as the automatic first step for ESL clients but doesn’t address the elephant in the room seems to me like a uniquely unhelpful reaction to the situation. The client should be shut down (as they were) and moved to a different employee/not provided services if the behavior doesn’t fully correct.

            1. Specks*

              As in, either this particular creepy client and others like him need the help of the NGO enough in the estimation of the OP to keep helping them as the issue is getting addressed – in which case you should continue to talk to them, issue clear warnings and training, and not expose the employee they’re harassing to them… or they can get help elsewhere and their unacceptable behavior is just that – unacceptable, and you’ll no longer be providing them services. Just shutting down video, making the service less helpful, but still making your employee work with creeps doesn’t address the core issues.

  38. Sarah*

    I haven’t seen this mentioned, but please tell your employee (if you haven’t already) that should any client make inappropriate comments and/or show up on calls without being dressed, she can shut it down* and leave the call immediately. She does not have to smile and nod uncomfortably during that as many women sometimes feel required to do when they don’t know how to handle it.

    *I would give her some stock phrases to use – “It looks like you’re not ready to meet. We’ll reschedule this call for another time. Goodbye.” and “That is not an appropriate thing to say. Please do not mention my body again.” Have her report them to you, so you can remove the clients from her caseload and/or fire them, whichever is most appropriate.

    1. Lana Kane*

      Absolutely. She should feel empowered to not allow herself to be stigmatized, and know that the OP has her back. No exceptions.

      I have direct reports who can be on the receiving end of nasty calls that can be hard to navigate due to the sensitive nature of their jobs, and I’ve given them sample scripts for different scenarios. They know they can end the call, or send it to me.

  39. Rectilinear Propagation*

    I knew this letter was coming since I saw the earlier tweet about it but it’s still worse than I expected.

    You need to be a lot firmer about the fact that these comments have to stop. Escalate if normal requests to stop aren’t working:
    “When I asked you not to comment on my employee’s body, I meant not ever.”
    “We don’t allow our clients to sexually harass our employees.”
    “I need to know that you’re not going to objectify our employees if we’re going to continue working with you.”

    Naked guy needs to not come into contact with anyone at your nonprofit anymore.

    Just because these people are known for “speaking their mind” doesn’t mean they aren’t capable of controlling themselves.

  40. Jennifer*

    I hope everyone who was so insistent last week that no one at work notices that some women have larger breasts and that no one looks at women’s chests at work will stop being so dismissive of our experiences now. It happens all the time. Just stop.

  41. Ellena*

    This is just a modern, workplace setting of the age-old “shaming the woman for men’s inappropriate behavior”. The fact that there’s also women involved on the “attacking” side is making it only more problematic. The people shaming her are the problem, not her.

  42. PromotionalKittenBasket*

    I think it’s safe to say that the Iranian yogurt is not the issue here.

    Your employee’s body needs to be clothed according to your dress code, clean, and is otherwise off-limits for commentary.

  43. AKchic*

    “Our employee is being sexually harassed and the clients are actually talking to me about how they are sexualizing her and harassing her, and I’d like her to dress differently in hopes that the prominent features they are sexualizing and harassing her for won’t be targeted anymore since I can’t ask her to leave body parts at home.”

    As someone with a large chest (they were J-K cups at one time, and are currently G’s), let me tell you that even in a turtleneck or oversized sweater/hoodie – these things are going to stick out like a sore thumb. Inappropriate people are still going to be inappropriate people. Punishing someone for having a body isn’t how you handle it. You call out the inappropriate behavior/people and make it clear that *their* behavior is wrong and has to stop.

    As Sarah mentioned, stock phrases for your employee to say in the moment when incidents happen. That is step one. Your employee needs to feel empowered in *not* accepting sexual harassment from clients (or anybody) simply for existing. Her clothes aren’t causing the harassment. It is their inappropriate behavior.
    When you hear the behavior, you need to call it out. If other staffers hear it, depending on their level, they need to either report it or shut it down, and all of the harassment should be documented in their client files.

    1. stray italian greyhound*

      “Our employee is being sexually harassed and the clients are actually talking to me about how they are sexualizing her and harassing her, and I’d like her to dress differently in hopes that the prominent features they are sexualizing and harassing her for won’t be targeted anymore since I can’t ask her to leave body parts at home.”

      Thank you for putting it so starky and correctly and also I just had a massive flashback to high school, wow.

  44. stray italian greyhound*

    Your male client. Made a comment about her large breasts. And then picked up. A video call. From her. While nude.

    You need to fire that client.

    Someone who used to have large breasts and knows the issues your employee is going through very well.

  45. Danika*

    Is everyone in the world just ten times more bold than I am? Even if I noticed, I would never say anything about some employee’s “big boobs.” Even if I knew the company and the people really well.

  46. Observer*

    TLDR; The problem is not your staff member’s clothes. Tell the client that if he pulls this again, she’s hanging up and you will no longer serve him. Tell her that if this, or any other client, takes a call inappropriately clothed, to end the call and report to you. And FOLLOW UP.

    It’s a bit disingenous, imo, to pretend that any give item of clothing is always going to be appropriate for different people. But that’s really not the issue here.

    Let me repeat: The problem here is NOT your employee’s clothing. Even** if** what she is wearing is objectively inappropriate your problem is not her clothing, and the solution to the problem is NOT having a talk with her.

    You mention that people are “more direct” but that’s total obfustication of the issue. This is not about directness. This is about inappropriate behavior that needs to be shut down. HARD.

    It’s not enough to “try” to shut it down quickly. The second someone mentions her boobs you need to stop them dead in their tracks. And any client that takes a video call not properly dressed gets a LAST AND FINAL WARNING. The warning should be short and sweet, no discussion AT ALL. “If you ever take another call with ANY staff not properly clothed, the staff person will end the call IMMEDIATELY and we will end any and all association with you.” Do not argue, “discuss”, accept apologies or “explanations”. And then, if it happens again, do that. Cut him off.

    The conversation you have with your staff person is “I know that you’ve been getting unwanted comments on your body. Please feel free to shut those down. If any client persists, please let me know and I’ll deal with it. If any client takes a video call inappropriately dressed, please end the call immediately and let me know.”

    If, and ONLY if, what she is wearing is actually inappropriate, have a separate conversation about it. “It’s clear that you are busty” does not rise to the level of actually inappropriate.

  47. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

    This is a client problem, not an employee problem.

    This is similar to girls being sent home from school because the boys can’t control themselves if a bit of shoulder is showing. You don’t teach the girls to be ashamed of their bodies, you teach the boys to respect the girls and not treat them like sexual objects.

  48. Pithy Moniker*

    serious question – is a “tank top” the same as a “sleeveless blouse”? I am another small band/large cup woman, and I would never wear what I call a “tank top” (casual/cotton/form-fitting) in a professional setting, but I have worn the occasional “sleeveless blouse” (nicer material, not form-fitting, no sleeves) in the summer (I am in the American South).

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I’d like to know this too. I’ve never heard a sleeveless blouse called a “tank top”. A tank top is athletic wear. You can get them in other materials than cotton. I’m envisioning a full on yoga attire right now reading this.

      I have seen plenty of women wear sleeveless blouses, with all sizes of chests and it’s certainly a huge difference.

      But since they also brought up shorts, I think it’s closer to the gym type of tank top. Since we have other crop-legged options as women as well, I’m curious about the shorts…

  49. anonymous 5*

    How to address it with your subordinate: “Subordinate, you are free to end any call in which your body is made the subject of the conversation. I will back you up and ensure that you are not treated that way by anyone, and I will make clear to clients that your body is not up for commentary.”

    And make sure you follow through on all of that, with this employee and with all employees, from here on.

  50. employment lawyah*

    There’s some degree of “nothing you can do” here, in a sense. She knows what she looks like, she is clearly aware of how it may/will be perceived. There’s nothing you can do about her choices or her figure. Your job is to prevent harassment, which varies by setting but usually has some non-zero cutoff.

    I’ll illustrate with Brad Pitt.

    Like: Brad Pitt is hot, right? My wife (and most women I know) think he’s hot–hell, I can see he’s hot and I wished I looked like him myself! If Brad Pitt worked for you it would be virtually impossible to prevent people from noticing he was hot; from looking at him as he walked into the cafeteria; or from, perhaps commenting on it privately to each other or even having it unconsciously affect their professional actions. Humans are humans, not robots. Your job vis-a-vis Brad would ideally be to draw some reasonable line in the sand and watch out for that line. You may not be able to prevent everyone from occasionally giving him a dreamy look as he passes in the hall, even if you want to. But you definitely would need to prevent them from pinching his rear end, and you can.

    Same here. You can’t realistically prevent people from noticing her breasts, or thinking about them. You may not be able to entirely stop private conversations, though you should tamp down on inappropriate ones if you hear them. You must, however, prevent people from stepping over the line. You can’t stop a glance but you must stop a leer-and-catcall; you can’t allow partially undressed (!!!!) clients on the phone; etc.

    Fortunately it doesn’t sound like the employee in question is trying to set up a lawsuit* but this really can be an area filled with minefields. You may want to consider looping in HR and/or your company lawyer, making sure you have an up to date harassment policy and reporting in place, etc.

    *yes this can happen, albeit rarely

    1. Yes Anastasia*

      I think you are correct that we are all human and have private thoughts rattling around in our heads, which hopefully we are polite enough to keep to ourselves.

      However, it is important to point out that women’s bodies are audited in a very different way from men’s bodies. Women and AFAB people’s bodies, and particularly their breasts, are read as “unprofessional,” “distracting,” or otherwise worthy of comment because they are read as female.

      This isn’t attraction, it’s sexism, and it’s important to keep that in mind when calibrating a response.

      1. employment lawyah*

        “it is important to point out that women’s bodies are audited in a very different way from men’s bodies. ”

        In real life, yes. In law, you can’t really have a standard which interprets it more stringently for women than for men; it’s harassment either way. Practically speaking, of course, the reality is that (a) women are less likely comment about men and (b) men are less likely to care about the comments of women, so even if you’re fully equal in enforcement you’re unlikrly to get the same # of things.

        1. Yes Anastasia*

          True, and I should have been clear that men can experience sexual harassment. I think holding both thoughts in our heads simultaneously – “sexual harassment is illegal for all genders” and “patriarchy is a thing” – is a good way to approach this.

  51. Lala762*

    I left this comment in a thread, and I want to put it up top:

    Can we PLEASE stop telling women (and girls) with big chests that they’re just too sexy for daily life?
    The issue isn’t these women and girls, it’s the fools around them.
    No one’s boobs – or BODY – is ‘unprofessional’.

  52. Susan*

    This is apparently an unpopular opinion, but if my clients were making sexual comments about me, that’s information that I would absolutely want to have so I decide how I want to deal with it (for example, by asking to end our business relationship with that client, or by asking them to be moved to a male colleague’s roster, or by planning to never meet with them in person).

    I would want my boss to frame it as: “As a heads up, Bob from [client] made an inappropriate comment about you yesterday after you left the meeting. I shut it down by saying [____], but I thought you would want to know. How do you want us to handle it?” And then to support me in what I said.

    1. Detective Amy Santiago*

      I don’t know that it’s necessarily an unpopular opinion, but it sure doesn’t seem to be what the LW was asking about.

    2. employment lawyah*

      Iam one of the “unpopular” folks.

      In general, I do not think it is wise to involve employees in deciding “how we should handle it”, for multiple reasons. I can’t explain them all, but here are three:

      First and most obviously, relying on individual employee preference prevents the firm from having any sort of clear and objective application of rules. But objective rules are crucial to avoid OTHER issues of disparity between employees

      Second and less obviously, employee input puts pressure on the victims to minimize it. If YOU say “fire the client” and Karen says “oh, guys will be guys, I know he says that and I don’t care; let’s do the deal” then over time they are likely to prefer working w/ Karen.

      Third, it can grant too much employee power. You would like to have the choice of “asking to end our business relationship with that client, or by asking them to be moved to a male colleague’s roster, or by planning to never meet with them in person.” But the only thing your firm “owes” you is not to allow you to be harassed. The MEANS by which they accomplish this is a business decision which is up to them, and ceding that power to you can cause all sorts of other problems.

      Fourth, it is not always obvious that full information will benefit all employees. What if someone made a “she’s hot” comment; it was shut down on penalty of firing; and you then worked with them in monitored, large groups? You obviously can’t avoid working with anyone who might find you sexually attractive–people do that all the time–and it isn’t obvious that you or they would be better off if you felt uncomfortable. I don’t know if the OP’s new employee would be better or worse off if she knew of the woman who made the breast comment. Do you?

    3. Batgirl*

      I kind of agree with the informing, but it should be handled with zero tolerance: “Just FYI, you never have to see naked Bob ever again. He’s dust.”

    4. Observer*

      In addition to what the others wrote, you are answering a question that was not asked. The OP did not ask how to protect the employee, nor how to provide the employee with information the might be useful to her. She asked how to tell the employee that the employee needs to start dressing different to stop “making” people harras her and gossip about her.

    5. Jennifer*

      I most definitely would want to know. It’s a realistic opinion. It’s not the OP’s place to tell this employee to change her clothes, but personally I would after knowing these things were being said about me. She may choose not to change her way of dressing at all, which is her right, but she has the right to decide for herself.

      1. Great Grey Owl*

        Yes, but we don’t know if the employee has the option of changing her way of dressing. Working for a non-profit does not guarantee that one is well-paid. And, if it might make her feel like an outsider at her own company.

  53. magc17*

    I’m about to be late for a meeting so I can’t read the entire comment section, but I’m wondering if perhaps the term “client” is referring to individuals making use of the non-profit’s services who do not bring in oodles of revenue. (I’m in healthcare IT, and “client” is used instead of “patient” in certain medical specialties.) In that case, the client can definitely be refused ongoing services if not treating the non-profit staff members appropriately, although there’s usually documentation required to back that decisions up.

  54. Girl Alex PR*

    I am a size 2 waist and DDD. It’s impossible to find anything that doesn’t make it apparent I have a large chest. I dress very professionally and work in a more formal office than OP (Shorts? Tanks? Jeans? No.) but aside from taping my chest down, there’s almost zero recourse. I’m struggling to think of a situation where I wouldn’t immediately be horrified if anyone said anything to me about my body FULL STOP at work.

  55. Batgirl*

    Do not give credence to the complaints of naked harassers and people who laugh at others’ bodies.
    Your employee is allowed to have a big chest, which is even allowed to be prominent or accentuated. Lucky that, because nature already had the last word on whether or not it is. If she has the same necklines/hemlines/clothing types as any one else she’s fine. Anyone who comments on her breasts needs a short sharp pulling up: “I’ll ask you not to make personal comments about my staff. I take a dim view of that”.

  56. Batgirl*

    I kind of agree with the informing, but it should be handled with zero tolerance: “Just FYI, you never have to see naked Bob ever again. He’s dust.”

  57. Smeralda*

    Creepy people will be creepy no matter how she’s dressed.

    I can leave my house in baggy sweat pants and an XXL sweatshirt and flip flops and still catch men leering at me. It’s often about power.

    I used to be a barista and wore an apron over high necked sweaters and I still had an old lady customer make weird remarks about how lucky I was to be “well endowed.”

    1. Smeralda*

      For that matter, I used to live in the Middle East and found that no matter how modestly I dressed (covered hair, loose abaya, even gloves) men still went out of their way to get in my face and harass me.

    2. Blinded By the Gaslight*

      For real! I experienced a house fire once, and after the fire was out, I went to get gas before moving things out of my burned place. I hadn’t showered, was covered in soot and grime, ponytail all askew and frizzy, face was all dirty and grimy from smoke, crying, etc. I go in to pay for my gas, the attendant gives me my change and says, “You looking sexy today.” ARGHH!

      Also, what is it with old ladies? I have had so many make the rudest comments to me about my boobs, my weight, my potential for prettiness if . . . UGH.

  58. Oxford Comma*

    To reiterate what most of the commentariat is saying–this is a client problem, not an employee problem. It sounds like the most egregious was the naked guy, but I think you owe it to your employee to say something to the others who are making comments.

  59. Observer*

    I doubt the client’s remarks will stop if this continues, since they come from a very specific community which is known for being direct.

    If this is actually a culture where directness is a thing, it’s actually easier to address this as no one will really blink an eye is you speak very clearly and directly.

    What your employee wears has no bearing on whether the comments stop. YOUR BEHAVIOR does. If you address this clearly and directly, refuse to JADE (Justify, Argue, Debate and Escuse) and refuse to allow these conversations to continue, they WILL stop. Start doing that, and let your employee know that she can end any conversation where this stuff happens and you’ll have her back, and this stuff WILL stop.

  60. deesse877*

    I found these issues were exacerbated by remote work and videoconferencing. Some of the reasons are obvious (my only good camera-placement option is slightly abo ve eye-level), but there’s more going on too, that I don’t really understand. For example, some people seem to find videoconferencing somehow…intimate? Or to feel like there’s less reason for professional respect in that context? It’s confusing. I go for oversized plaid, myself, and relive the Nineties.

  61. Paris Geller*

    Ugh. Adding to the chorus of busy women who can do nothing about the fact that -*gasp*–I have boobs. Large ones! There is nothing I can wear that will cover the fact that I have curves, whether I’m wearing a spaghetti strap or a turtleneck. Of course some clothes aren’t appropriate for work, but if your employee is following the dress code as it applies to everyone else, then you should say nothing to her about her clothes. Even if she isn’t, then that’s definitely a conversation that needs to be had. . . but not until the incident with the clients get straighten out, because THAT is definitely the bigger problem here.

  62. WantonSeedStitch*

    As a 34F pre-pregnancy, 36FF/G mid-pregnancy, and likely to increase to Kaiju-Boobs when I start nursing my baby, I am SO GLAD you answered this in this way, Alison. Wearing clothing that fits and conforms to workplace norms is important–and that’s hard enough when you’re really busty: that shirt that fits you fairly loosely at waist and hips might be tight in the bust, and sizing up just looks dumpy and sloppy, and the neckline that reveals skin but not cleavage on a smaller-busted person might be va-va-voom on you. But even when you do all that, it’s impossible to hide the fact that yes, those boobs are big. When people treat that like it’s a personal decision and an attitude on my part (rather than just the luck of the genetic draw), or that I am explicitly inviting certain kinds of commentary or behavior from people *simply because of how my body is shaped*, it is INFURIATING.

    And yes, it’s very true that sexual harassment will happen no matter how modestly one may be dressed. I’ve been hit on while wearing a big winter parka. I’ve been hit on while wearing regular jeans and a tee shirt. (And FWIW, I’ve also been treated with respect and courtesy while wearing a corset and miniskirt.)

    OP, you can tell your employee, “we obviously have a casual dress code here, but we require sleeves,” but if only if you do the same with anyone else wearing a tank top. But don’t be surprised if this doesn’t stop her being harassed. YOU need to be the driving force on that.

  63. Archaeopteryx*

    It’s pretty standard for workplace dress coats to have lines about “no tight or revealing clothing”, regardless of the actual casualness or formality of the clothes you’re allowed to wear. Just like they often specify no rips or stains or anything. If you don’t have a written dress code you should formalize it, otherwise you’re going to get into a ton of hairsplitting negotiations with people.

    1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

      Yes! As a manager (in a previous role) I once had to talk with one of my reports about ‘revealing’ clothing and in that case it wasn’t anything to do with body size, (she was actually very skinny with no noticeable ‘curves’ in that case) because she came to work where our dress code was “business casual / casual” (e.g. polos, chinos, jeans, t-shirts if they were clean/didn’t have too many holes in/didn’t have profane language etc printed on) in a top that was off-the-shoulder, open back (tied only in one place in the way that a bikini top is) and fairly transparent. I don’t know if there was a bra as I consciously didn’t look too closely!

      All the ‘bits and bobbins’ were, technically, covered up… so it was legal of course, but this was a difficult conversation I had to have because although there weren’t explicit dress code rules against “clothing that has a total of about 4″ tied together across the back which is actually covered” nor “see through clothing” (because, silly me, I thought the company assumed that people would use good professional judgement so ‘ see through clothing ‘ wasn’t something they had had to legislate for?! .. but as said, it was pretty transparent)

      1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

        … I hit submit too soon. Although there weren’t those explicit rules, as in there wasn’t something she could have pointed to in the contract or handbook that said “off-the-shoulder with bikini back tops are not to be worn” there was of course a dress code that would have covered that, which she willingly disregarded out of either a lack of care for professional norms or a more conscious “screw you” viewpoint.

  64. Antisocialite*

    1. Super disappointed with a lot of the blame and “that’s just business, you have to make money” commentary going on.

    2. The OP can clarify if they want, but it seems like they’re a non-profit providing services to clients, possibly to a neurodiverse community (“but I doubt the client’s remarks will stop if this continues, since they come from a very specific community which is known for being direct”). So firing a paying client/customer is very different from managing a client receiving social services. Regardless, that person being half naked is absolutely a problem that needs to be addressed.

    1. Paperwhite*

      I totally agree with both of these. Personally, I might be slightly more horrified with the “if the client is receiving social services it’s Unfair to shut down the sexual harassment” comments, perhaps because I expect that many people will excuse anything for money.

    2. Anon for this one*

      “that’s just business, you have to make money” et seq ….

      It’s not a popular opinion I know, but in some cases there is a legit ‘greater good’ need to look at what’s good for the business in preference to what’s good for the specific individual and what makes money prevails (there were some comments already posted about what if the “star” client provides 25% of revenue for example).

        1. Antisocialite*

          paperwhite: my feelings exactly.

          Btw, I am disabled and a client of my state’s vocational rehabilitative services. In addition to that case manager, they often have you work with various non-profits for different services. Your contract has all sorts of requirements including verbal abuse, sexual or other harassment, etc. as termination of services. That’s how it should be, and hopefully the OP can work on that aspect of the creepy naked dude.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        This is why the director of IT of one firm I worked for got away with sexually assaulting female members of staff…because he brought far more money to the firm than they could.

        (Although in the end he was fired. For embezzlement though)

    3. Ciela*

      even if the clients are nuerodiverse, saying something along the lines “comments about employees bodies are not acceptable” would be a very reasonable stance to take.

  65. DrGirlfriend*

    As someone with giant tits, this has happened to me and I have always been genuinely baffled by what I’m supposed to do. Like, sir, I’m wearing a turtle neck and pantyhose and every other “professional” signifier but this is my body and having it confirmed over and over that all I am to people, no matter how big a potato sack I wear, is just my tits is hard.

    Leave your employee alone and focus on your gross AF clients. Casual dress doesn’t mean party vibe and that’s up to you to enforce.

    1. Antisocialite*

      Same. Other than making sure my button-down shirt fits and doesn’t have that huge weird button gap showing my bra, etc., not much else you can do.

  66. Jade*

    It’s dismaying that there is so much debate on this topic in the comments. This is cut and dry, people. As Ask A Manager said, “Address it with the people making the comments; their behavior is the issue.” Period. End of story.

  67. Erin*

    Nobody is firing clients, especially in the current economic climate.

    However, people making comments on other people’s bodies should be gently re-directed. Also, a genderless and specific dress code (no visible cleavage, no visible midriffs, whatever) should probably be implemented to save the company from any potential legal action stemming from sexual harassment lawsuits.

    1. Observer*

      In non-profits, clients are generally not money makers. The money comes from funders.

      In any case, even in this client smart companies WILL “fire” customers who harras their staff. Because that is both the ethical thing to do, and it also can wind up being a LOT cheaper in the long run. The hit to morale, losing good staff (yes, even now people leave jobs) and the law suit potential are all real costs.

  68. some dude*

    I’m just here to say this is one more reason why I am glad I am a man.

    And the guy shirtless on a call? Nope-ity nope nope. Guh-rooossss. Also harassment.

    Your employee can’t help having big boobs. You can help clients and colleagues not be a$$holes about it.

    And really, nobody ever needs to be seen in a tank top, but I live somewhere cold.

  69. Beth*

    As a large chested woman, I would just really like everyone except my girlfriend to stop paying attention to them–or at least, stop making it my problem that they’re paying attention to them. Yes, I know they’re there. Yes, I’m aware you can see the shape of them. No, I don’t want to hear your opinion on that. No, their existence/visibility is not me being sexual or flirting. No, I will not change my clothing to try and hide them; it wouldn’t be possible even if I tried, and I’m not going to wear sacks to convince you that I’m trying, when instead I can just be okay with my body and expect you to be an adult about it. Just….it’s just my body shape, it’s not that big a deal. Move on.

  70. Anon for This*

    yeah, if she is wearing the same type of clothes that anyone else could wear, this is not a wardrobe issue.

    Even when wearing the same unisex polo shirts as my other co-workers, you can absolutely tell that I am very well endowed. A sweatshirt 3 sizes too big makes it less noticeable, but I’m only dressing like that if *I* decide that I’m too cold.

    Plus, tell naked client to take his business elsewhere…

  71. Chaordic One*

    This is one of those issues that is so loaded and there are so many double-standards involved. There are women who dress inappropriately for work. There are women whose body types make it more difficult to dress in ways that send a professional vibe. Besides body shape and weight, there are issues of age involved. Sometimes a younger and/or more fit person can get away with looking good in tighter or more revealing clothing. I keep recalling an older co-worker who was probably only in her mid-60s (but who looked like she was in her 80s) who wore a tube top to her office job on hot summer days. It was not flattering, but no one said anything and she did have a jacket that she could throw on if a customer happened to walk into the office.

    There are a lot of people who don’t really have a sense of style and who don’t consciously know what gives a professional impression or how to project it in their dress. And there are a fair number who do know, but who don’t care about it. In most situations, especially where the jobs are not customer-facing, it is probably better, if not easier, not to say anything except in the most egregious cases.

    In my current job, we don’t face the customers and I’m sort of personally disappointed that my many of my coworkers dress like slobs, but it doesn’t affect their ability to do their jobs and I keep my mouth shut about it. It can be kind of difficult to not let affect it my judgement of them. Mostly it has to do with their clothes being old and kind of ratty looking. What they wear to work, I would wear to wash my car and do yard work in. B.C. (Before Covid) I did laugh to myself when my boss asked two of my co-workers to please dress up a little more one day when some corporate big-wigs from headquarters were visiting the office as part of a tour. Specifically, she requested that they please, not wear their flannel pajamas to work that day. Then she asked them where they bought them and said she’d like to buy some like that for her daughters.

    Several commenters have said that men aren’t subject to these same kinds of comments. It does happen, although not nearly as often as with women. Many years ago I worked at a company (a conservative financial services-related business) where there was a notable double-standard in how men of color were expected to dress. They were told outright that they would be judged more harshly by clients and customers then white men and that they would be expected to dress more professionally (i.e. suits and sports jackets and ties) than white men who could get away with polo shirts and dockers if they felt like it. They were also advised about what colors of clothing to wear so that it flattered their appearance and did not make them appear “swarthy.” Suffice to say, it was not a great work environment. That employer was bought out by another company and I can’t imagine what it might be like there now.

    It bugs me when men with hairy backs and shoulders wear tank tops (or even sleeveless shirts) to work. (But then, I’m shallow and judgemental.) Similarly, it bugs me when they wear cropped tops, especially if their bellies are sticking out. It bugs me when the legs of their underwear stick out from under their shorts. But I would NEVER say anything about it.

    When I worked in H.R. I was aware of a couple of times where men were called in to discuss their professional dress. A young graphic designer was advised that he should not being going shirtless while working in his private office with the door open. (I guess it would be O.K. if the door were closed?) A different young man was advised that he should wear underwear under his tight jeans because there had been several comments from coworkers about his um, “bulge” being noticeable and distracting, although it was covered at all times. (I never noticed.)

    1. Kathlynn (Canada)*

      I’m starting a wfh job. And people are surprised to know that I *dont* plan on wearing pj’s every day. And might actually dress up. (after 13 years of wearing pj’s or stuff for work, usually a t-shirt and jeans. Dressing up is a treat for me, who likes being a little fancy)

  72. Anonybreast*

    I just came to say that when I was about 25, newly pregnant in my first professional job, I had my (female) manager sit me down to tell me she received a complain about my cleavage. She wouldn’t tell me who, but we worked with all women and I rarely interacted with the public.

    It was incredibly humiliating (later, I realized, my cleavage had gotten much bigger with pregnancy, but I was not wearing anything nor showing more cleavage than I hadn’t seen other colleagues wear many time). She told me she didn’t see it herself, so she couldn’t tell me which shirt it was (they all were pretty similar?) and I spent the rest of my time there wondering each day if THIS was the forbidden shirt and who had such a bone to pick with me that they reported it.

    It’s been 10 years, and I still wonder what shirt it was, why it was so bad, and if I still own it/wear it to work. I’ve worked in many departments since, and it never came up again.

  73. DinoGirl*

    Thank you for this response. I had a job in college, and I still remember the sting of being told my tank top was inappropriate and “putting temptation where it ought not be.” I was busty, and at that time, a bit overweight. The top fit well, and was modest, so it was not inappropriate, just a tank top. A thin female employees wore tank tops without issue. I was obviously being singled out for my body, not the shirt, and it felt terrible.
    I work in HR now and I’m still really sensitive to how often women are clothing/body-policed.

  74. Crabby Patty*

    “I told the naked client he must always be clothed for video calls…”

    I don’t know whether to laugh or be angry with the client.

    I just really don’t know.

  75. Cheluzal*

    Meh. I have very large boobs and you can definitely keep them covered. Sure you can tell that they’re large and the size but I’m going to predict that this is more of massive cleavage spilling on the top. Frankly I find it unprofessional and I have no problem with them enforcing a more stricter professional dress code.

  76. Trixie, the Great and Pedantic*

    As the feudal lady of two huge tracts of land…

    1) tell your employee she’s allowed to tell people not to comment on her body, as it is (presumably) not relevant to the services being provided

    2) remind your clients that your employee’s body is (again, presumably) not relevant to the services being provided, and comments on said body will be ignored

    3) if you’re really in your feelings about dem tiddies, take a look at your dress code and overhaul it for *everyone*. Tank tops do straddle the line between appropriate and inappropriate, but if you’re cool with Alissa A-Cup wearing one, then you have to be cool with Freya F-Cup wearing one too.

    4) take a look at yourself and how you’re approaching all this. Is it affecting how you gauge anything else about her work, or about any of your other reports? What other things are you judging employees for that are irrelevant to their work.

  77. AKchic*

    I am also going to note that a lot of people are really stuck on the “tank top” thing and what constitutes a “tank top”.

    I am wearing a sleeveless blouse and a cardigan today. My top is a very nice satiny material with a black and white design and my cardigan is a black knitted one.
    I work with my mother, who is my worst critic. She looked my up and down (as she does every day) and rolled her eyes at me and said “nice t-shirt” in a sarcastic voice as if I were wearing my Scooby Doo shirt to work again (which, again, we’re a pretty casual office, and our actual bosses don’t care).

    I say all of this because we use “tank top” as a kind of catch-all word for sleeveless top in the US. Sometimes it means spaghetti strap camisole, sometimes it means sleeveless blouse, sometimes it means white undershirt. I think a lot of people are getting hung up on the semantics. Let’s all assume that the employee is dressing in a work-appropriate way because if she weren’t, the LW would have actually made mention of it. At this point, all we know is that the employee is well-endowed and a few clients have made inappropriate comments and had terrible interactions based on their noticing of her endowments, not because she is dressing in any inappropriate way.

  78. Letter writer*

    Hello, I am the Letter Writer. I wanted to thank Alison for responding to my question. I only noticed now when I received the email.

    As for some of the comments from the questions here.

    I cannot fire the client who responded topless. Its not because of revenue, since our services our free, he isn’t paying us. However, we are providing social services for people with disabilities, as some of here guessed correctly and part of the job is to teach them how to act in society. We have pretty firm rules on when we can fire clients and its usually only when they are physically agressive/dangerous to us. I also cannot issue voice calls only, since the communication wouldn’t be feasible then.

    I did transfer the client to another worker. I talked to him (the client) and he promised not to repeat the situation. I also adressed the comments other clients made, however, I cannot stop them entirely and they will likely occur again, because that’s the nature of our work and the clients we work with. I talked to some people from other branches, and it turned out the naked video calls are so common they made an educational video about it. This was just our “lucky” first case, apparently.

    I mostly wrote this ask because I was extremely rattled by the client’s behaviour and trying to figure out how to deal with it. I wish I could make it so she would not be subject to any sexual harrasment from our clients, but I am unable to prevent it. We talked about it together and we agreed on some ways to shut it down when it happens. I feel like I failed her for not preparing her properly, because I did face these comments before (about myself).
    I know some people here assumed I am flat-chested myself and that I cannot possibly comprehend how big boobs work, but I am actually bigger than she is. I dress differently, however. I wanted to convey words of “you will get comments about it, but there will be more comments if you dress this way, its a form of self-protection” but I didn’t know how to word it.

    I guess I bungled it up, since I made it seem like it was her fault or that she deserved the harrasment because of her way of dress. I don’t think that, its not true. I just zeroed on the tank top in my panic, since it seemed like something I could work with, unlike future behaviour of our clients.

    As for what I mean by tank top, something like this:
    To my knowledge, she is the only one who wears this type of clothing in our org, regardless of chest size.

    1. Snuck*

      Thanks for the update/clarification!

      I commented above with this assumption, I think your approach is a good start. That tank top you linked is quite low cut, and she has a select clientele. Maybe something like “Jane, I know it’s pretty upsetting, I’ve copped it too. It’s a part of working with this type of client, and why we’re here – to slowly but firmly educate them. As part of our professional presentation we need to do many things to alleviate distractions, whether that be turn off background sounds, continue to use video calls so that facial expression remains part of the communication, and not use fast or highly modulated voices. This can include also how we dress, particularly if we’re leaning forward into a video camera. Would it be possible for you to have a think about changes that you are able to make to offset these disabled clients inability to filter, and while it’s not ideal, we’ll work on changing their behaviour too…”

      It’s really tricky, because there’s a need to protect your employee from this, for your employee’s rights to wear what they want to be protected to a reasonable extent, possibly your employees professional inexperience to consider, and it’s socially, politically and professionally complicated.

        1. Snuck*

          Maybe. Maybe not. Alleviate distractions is simply that. If you are working with people who have specific conditions and inabilities to manage themselves walking in with a rainbow Mohawk and thigh high boots could be very distracting.

          I’m not going to be ‘moved’ from a position of saying “there are times and places that it’s not appropriate to present your body in a particular way”. I have had several people challenge me on this, assuming I am ‘policing bodies’, and a lot of people are firmly in the “you can’t tell me what to do” camp… I am firmly in the “I believe there’s a time and place for everything” camp… if you wouldn’t wear it to a family dinner with extended aunts and weird uncles… it might not be appropriate to wear as a therapist in a counselling centre working with people who are ‘difficult’. If you wouldn’t wear it to teach at a primary school, should you wear it to work with mentally disabled who are learning social boundaries?

          Your right to wear whatever is your choice, but as an employer of people who work with disadvantaged and emotionally and socially immature youth I can say unequivocally that I would NOT employ a person who couldn’t understand that their professional relationship extends beyond the words that come out of their mouth, and deeply into their personal presentation, social mannerisms and the way they communicate non verbally with their clients.

          Well endowed isn’t the issue, it’s the rigid refusal to understand that it’s a two way street and if you are the more mature, more adult, more together and officially professional person in the interaction then you need to step up a little more, compromise on things you have control over a little more, be a little more professional than the person who for whatever reason cannot. What on EARTH is wrong with wearing a tshirt or a blouse or higher necked (not turtle neck, just not bra cup grazingly low as shown in the OP’s link) tank? Why die on THIS hill of all the battles?

          Just as it could also be other non-verbal skills – maybe the employee has a high pitched voice (and Alison has given advice recently to consider how to reduce ‘child like voice’ and said that voice coaches or using a more mature phrasing can help), or being very physically small/child short (and Alison has suggested working at a high level of professionalism, and wearing clothes that are less childlike if I recall correctly), just like people asking whether fluffy and unicorn stationary is appropriate in the workplace… we have to decide what we put forward of ourselves, and time and again there’s people making assumptions based on impressions. This isn’t about cleavage this is about inappropriate assumptions, and we ask people to moderate their own behaviour/appearance/presentations if they want to send a different professional image, so why can’t we link the same thing to inappropriate assumptions about our body shapes when they come from a disabled clientele?

          Non disabled, fully mentally capable? Can be poked by sticks and flayed in the streets… But that’s not what we are talking about here. And disability isn’t a free pass to be an ass, but certain disabilities have specific limitations, as sounds like the case here. If her clients changed to counselling sex offenders would the rules on what she wears change? Would she change what she wore then? Why does one class of ‘client’ vs another change this? Because it’s now icky or professionally inappropriate to ‘lure’ and ‘present’ that way? What about an Intellectual disability with an IQ that puts them in the range of a ‘never going to get higher than a grade 4 level of understanding”?

    2. Rainy*

      So as an H-cup, I can tell you that it doesn’t matter what she’s wearing.

      At a certain point, they’re just big, okay? Yeah, if you work in a professional environment (as I do) she should wear what everyone else does.

      But–and please listen to me because I know this struggle–IT DOES NOT MATTER WHAT SHE WEARS. If her breasts are large, there is literally nothing she can do to disguise it. The problem here is not her, it’s that she’s running up against people who have a Thing about big tits, and she could be wearing Spanish plate armour and they’d be like “woo, big tittays”, because jerks gonna jerk.

      If you have a dress code that everyone else is adhering to, help her find options that fall within the dress code, but understand that if you have an employee with large breasts who works with the public, a (fairly large) percentage of the public really has a Thing about large breasts, and a (thankfully smaller) percentage of *that* percentage is going to be super gross about it–not because your employee is doing something wrong, but because those people are gross assholes.

      1. Snuck*

        The OP says she has a larger bust… and does not encounter these comments/responses, from the same client base. So… the employee needs to work with the OP (manager) to reduce her exposure to the inappropriate comments. It’s probably a combination of a professional skills, not just clothing, but also could include appearance (if the employee is young, or her physical body language is soft or overtly approachable or … who knows… none of us are there! But… there’s probably more than the low cut tank top going on yes…).

        Yes, the clients suck, but as the OP says, they are a disabled client who (I presume) is there to learn to not suck as much. And they aren’t going to be ‘fired’ for this.

        I’m not exactly flat chested myself, and have worked in a highly male workforce for many years … I hear you on finding appropriate clothes… and what fits one type of body looked ENTIRELY different on another. Also the way you sit/stand, hold yourself, lean in or the angle on a video camera, the tone of your voice, the way you style your hair and do your make up can also provide an ‘impression’…. and if you are working with people who have limited capability in social skills you might well need to be double careful about the visual and informal communication.

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