For the past 7 months I have been working as a Human Resources Assistant for a nonprofit company. There are a total of four people in my department, myself, two generalists and the VP of HR for the organization. On numerous occasions I have been told by one of my co-workers that our supervisor has confided in her, that she does not like my clothing choices. I am in compliance with dress code and my supervisor has never said anything to me directly, she has only expressed to one specific co-worker how she has been angry and unhappy with me based on my clothing. She has also made comments to other members of executive staff asking them to excuse my clothing. This resulted in that person (our Assistant CEO) coming to me to apologize for her comments behind my back. Our dress code is written as business casual, however, most employees, including executive staff, do not follow this and dress more everyday casual. My supervisor has never reprimanded any other employees or really enforced the dress code for that matter. I am a young woman with a husband and two small children. My income is modest to say the least, I cannot afford to spend excessive amounts of money on pant suits however, I do wear slacks, knee length skirts/dresses and blouses, whereas my predecessor wore skinny jeans every day.

I am not breaking any rules, and yet she has become angry with me and talked to others behind my back about me dress. Is this harassment or discrimination?

closed as off-topic by gnat, Joe Strazzere, Joel Etherton, IDrinkandIKnowThings, Garrison Neely Mar 18 '15 at 20:36

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  • "Real questions have answers. Rather than explaining why your situation is terrible, or why your boss/coworker makes you unhappy, explain what you want to do to make it better. For more information, click here." – gnat, Joel Etherton, IDrinkandIKnowThings, Garrison Neely
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    Not sure if it is harassment or discrimination but it is wrong. It is not appropriate to comment on your clothing or any part of you performance to another worker. If your supervisor has a problem with you then should take it up directly with you. I would say go to HR but this is HR. If the supervisor implies you should dress more "sexy" then that might be harassment. Unless it is crazy colors or holes or dirty I cannot see the problem. – paparazzo Mar 18 '15 at 17:20
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    Is there anything unique about you? Perhaps you're the only woman, have a dramatically different body type from your coworkers, are 20 years younger than everybody else? Your supervisor may have inconsistent standards which would be discrimination. I agree with the answerers that asking is the best approach. You may or may not get an honest answer. – Kate Gregory Mar 18 '15 at 17:37
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    I don't understand this she has only expressed to one specific co-worker (...) unhappy with me based on my clothing. She has also made comments to other members of executive staff. Are you taking one coworker's word for your supervisor being unhappy with your attire, or do you have other evidence? Are you sure that it's not your coworker that's causing the problem? As other answers have mentioned, the best way to handle it is to talk with your supervisor directly. – ColleenV Mar 18 '15 at 20:06
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    Sorry for being fashion knowledge-deficient but is your boss unhappy because you are over-dressed or under-dressed? If it is because of being under-dressed then maybe you are in compliance with company standards but not so for your boss's perception of how you should be dressing for your particular position. If you are in a customer-facing position then generally you need to dress better than if you are locked away in a cubicle all day. – Dunk Mar 19 '15 at 20:01

You should have a one-on-one conversation with your supervisor to discuss the issue directly. You can say that you have heard from others that she has concerns about your wardrobe. You can express that you would like to understand her concerns and see what you can do to address them given your personal constraints. You can also say that you have heard of negative comments about your appearance she has made to others and that you would appreciate if she would address those to you first so that you have an opportunity to respond.


Is this harassment or discrimination? I am not breaking any rules, and yet she will become angry with me, and talk to others behind my back about me dress?

I see nothing here that would lead me to believe you are being harassed or discriminated against.

And there's no way for someone outside your organization to conclude why she "will become angry" with you. It may be due to your appearance, or may have other roots.

If you regularly have one-on-one meetings with her, you should broach the subject of this anger (using specific examples) and see where it is coming from.

If you don't have regular meetings, you should request a time when you could chat.

Perhaps there is indeed something going on here, or perhaps you are jumping to unfounded conclusions. The only way you can know is to ask.


Discrimination on the basis of dress is not protected under the law. So, your supervisor may or may not discriminate against you based on the way you dress but if she is doing it, she is also getting away with it. Clean.

Your supervisor does not like the way you dress. Has she said anything to you directly? Not sure how talking behind you back - if that's all she is doing, qualifies as harassment.

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