Last week Finnish farmhand Mari Vahanen looking for work in New Zealand posted a perfectly normal picture of herself in work clothes and explained her background in farm work on the NZ Farming Facebook page.
In return she received unsolicited comments about her “hotness” and dateability and phone numbers accompanied by winking emojis, rather than genuine work offers.
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One commenter asked: “Would you be commenting similarly if it was a male asking for a job?”
Recently a bar in Perth, Australia, issued female staff with a tighter, lower cut shirt than the men’s shirts they had been wearing. Some staff felt uncomfortable, yet the manager posted on social media that it was a condition of employment and if they were not comfortable they could find work elsewhere.
The manager even tried to spin the tight shirts as a health and safety issue saying, “Baggy shirts catch on things and could cause injury in the workplace.” Interestingly, nothing indicates that he was concerned about the safety of the men still wearing those same shirts.
After backlash on social media, the bar withdrew the policy and backed down.
In the United States, managers at Topshop instructed staff to wear skimpy outfits when Sir Philip Green, the owner of Topshop, visited the stores.
Behaviour like this crosses many ethical lines and breaches employment law.
Employers are responsible for addressing such behaviour from customers, clients, and other employees. Certainly, employers should not have policies that perpetuate sexual harassment or focus on sexual appearance.
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In the early 2000s there was a high profile British case involving Carina Coleman, an investment banker in London.
She argued that her lack of cooperation with this behaviour was a factor in her dismissal. Coleman won her case for unfair dismissal, yet her employer and the man accused of sexually harassing Coleman received name suppression.
A worker at the Grand Hotel in Whanganui left her employment and brought a case alleging sexual harassment against her manager for making offensive sexual comments, a supervisor for telling her to wear a t-shirt that was too small, and the behaviour of a co-worker who sent her texts, touched and brushed against her, and made comments with sexual innuendo.
Peter Cullen is a partner at Cullen – the Employment Law Firm. He can be contacted at peter@cullenlaw.