When Social Media Is Unsocial

, , , , , | Working | August 30, 2019

(I am the business manager for a small music store. I am a young female in my early twenties. I am in charge of finances, hiring and firing, marketing, etc., along with being the second in command after the owner. It is a small company, so I know everyone in the store and sometimes work the retail portion during particularly busy days. We’re also a pretty close workplace, so it is not uncommon for us to hang out after work to grab drinks. One day, the general manager, the person below me in the chain of command and in charge of overseeing retail employees, comes to my office with an unusual situation.)

General Manager: “Could I talk to you about an issue I’m having?”

Me: “Of course; I’m happy to help.”

General Manager: “[Employee] came into work today wearing a slightly inappropriate outfit, and I’m not quite sure how to address it. I’m worried that me, a man in my mid-forties, trying to have a conversation about appropriate work attire with a 22-year-old female will come off as creepy and rude.”

Me: “I understand completely. Why don’t I go up to the register and check it out, and if I find what she’s wearing to be inappropriate for the workplace, I’ll have a conversation with her about it?”

General Manager: “Thank you. I thought it might be better coming from you, especially since you two go out for drinks together often.”

(I finish what I am working on and then go to the front of the store to check out the situation. As I am relatively good friends with this employee, I don’t expect her to wear anything truly inappropriate, and never by intention, so what I find is quite shocking. She literally looks like she is about to go to Coachella; she’s wearing a woven crop top that only covers a small portion of her chest and leaves nothing to the imagination, a bright, neon yellow bra underneath, and a pair of very short shorts. It’s more than a little too risqué for our work environment.)

Me: “Hey, [Employee], can I talk to you for a moment?”

Employee: “Yeah, sure!”

Me: “I want to start off with saying you are not in trouble.”

Employee: “Is everything okay? I’m not being fired, am I?”

Me: “No! Of course not! I just want to talk to you for a moment about what you’re wearing.”

Employee: “Isn’t it cute? I just got it the other day!”

Me: “It’s very cute, but it’s not appropriate for the workplace. Now, I’m not going to send you home today, but I need you to assure me you won’t dress like this again.”

Employee: “Oh, I’m sorry. I thought we had a laid-back dress code here.”

Me: “We do, but that means jeans and a T-shirt are the most casual things you can dress in. We still need to maintain professionalism here. Also, we have music students of all ages coming in here, not to mention that you and I both know how inappropriate some of the male customers can be already. Bottom line, you’re not in trouble; I’m just going to need for you to agree to have your midriff and cleavage covered in the future. You’ve always followed the dress code up until today, so I don’t think it should be a problem.”

Employee: “Oh, okay. I’m so sorry. I just need to do laundry tonight and I wasn’t thinking about it and I didn’t think it would be a problem since we have a casual dress code. I guess I didn’t think about it. I’m sorry. It won’t happen again. But out of curiosity, why are you the one telling me this? Isn’t it usually [General Manager]’s job to deal with little things like this?”

Me: “Normally, it is, but he felt a little uncomfortable trying to talk to a woman fifteen years his junior about what’s appropriate for her to wear, so I agreed to check it out and talk with you if I agreed with his initial thoughts.”

Employee: “Okay, that makes sense.” *laughs* “Yeah, that definitely would have felt a little creepy.”

Me: “Yeah, I’ve known him long enough to know he wouldn’t have meant anything by it, but you have only been here a few months, so we didn’t want to make it weird.”

(The rest of the quick conversation is uneventful; we happily discuss getting drinks the next day after work, and then we both go back to our respective tasks. Later that night, I’m scrolling through Facebook and see a post from the employee from earlier.)

Employee’s Post: “I’m so fed up with how working conditions are these days! Like, my creepy old male employer had the nerve to try to tell me how to dress today, and then tried to imply that if I dress in a way that he finds inappropriate that I’d be inviting men to harass me, which would then be my fault for my attire. I’m so tired of slut-shaming in today’s society and how we victim-blame. It’s disgusting and wrong. I should be able to dress however I want without being judged or having to worry I’ll be assaulted.”

(She has my store as her employment in her bio, so I’m immediately worried by the false implications she’s throwing against my store. I’m reading through the comments and I see a lot of outrage and people agreeing with her. Being her friend — and boss — I decide to comment myself:)

My Comment: “[Employee], I’m terribly sorry that the conversation you had with me, your 23-year-old female employer, went so negatively in your mind today. I was under the impression it had gone well since you and I agreed to get cocktails tomorrow night. I also know that your older male GM had to leave right before our conversation today, since he had to pick his son up from school. So, if you could just privately message me which employee had this conversation with you, I’d be happy to follow up on it, because what you described is not behavior we condone at [Store]. I agree with you that no woman should ever have to worry that what she wears could open men up to believing she is deserving of assault. I agree that society is not painting assault victims in a pretty color at the moment and that there needs to be a change in our society. However, we at [Store] do not condone slut-shaming, victim-shaming, or strict dress codes. We always stand up for our employees’ desire to express themselves through their unique attire, so long as it is workplace appropriate. Unfortunately, I have to say that your macrame crop top and neon yellow bra combination just didn’t feel workplace appropriate for our store. We did not send you home to change, we did not write you up for an infraction, and we did not in any way bully, shame, or punish you for your choice of outfit today. I simply asked that you not repeat this outfit or anything similarly revealing. I also wanted to remind you that last week when a customer got particularly brazen and started to cross the line with you, we had GM escort the man outside and wait with him until the police arrived, as we had every intention of having him arrested for harassment for how he acted and the things he said to you. We have always taken our employee’s sides when it comes to harassment and will never condone that kind of inappropriate behavior. I’m terribly sorry if you were given the wrong impression today during our conversation. Please reach out to me at your earliest convenience so we can discuss anything further.” 

(When I woke up the next morning I had 15+ notifications from Facebook. When I checked, it was people either liking or commenting on my response. By the time I went in to work that morning, she had pulled down the post as the comments had all shifted from her side to mine.  She avoided me for her entire shift that day and we did not go out for drinks after work, either. She later apologized and we remained friendly during her time working for my store. It wasn’t until a few months later that she had to be fired for starting an affair with a married coworker — not the general manager! — trying to steal music students to teach privately, and for baiting customers into having heated arguments with her so that it would look like the customer was verbally attacking her and the general manager would escort them out. All of this happened during her final week, so I guess she wanted to go out with an eventful bang of a week.)

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