manager wants to buy underwear for employees — and wants to approve it first

A reader writes:

A friend of mine recently told me that her boss takes her and a coworker shopping a couple of times a year. Sounds nice, huh? Apparently the shopping experience is done together and the boss directs the employees to what they can look for (shoes, handbag, etc.) and then upon her approval, she’ll buy the items and they are on their merry way. She presents it as a treat, but I think she just wants them dressed more professionally. My friend always looks nice, but she isn’t really the “suit and dress” type. She prefers slacks and a blouse. She does not meet with any clients; she sits behind a desk most of the day, so I don’t know why this lady is such a whack job about the clothes.

Recently, the boss could not go and told the gals to visit a particular department store and find dresses, suits, handbags, shoes, bras and underwear. They were told to place the items on hold and that she would go the next day and review the items and buy them upon her inspection. My friend felt uncomfortable having her boss “review and accept” bras and panties and therefore did not place any on hold. The next day, the boss complained about her not choosing the undergarments and complained that she had to go to the lingerie department searching for the items “on hold” – annoyed that nothing was there. When my friend told her she simply didn’t need any new undergarments, she was scolded for not following the rules. The boss did, however, allow the rest of the items and brought them in for her.

Personally, if I want to treat my staff to something special, I take them to lunch and toss them a gift card (or cash) and a smile. When I heard this story, I thought it was kind of inappropriate. Almost borderline sexual harassment. I had suggested she decline the next shopping adventure and hope for a gift card instead. But apparently the boss doesn’t want the employees spending the money on their kids or anyone else but them. And obviously doesn’t want them wearing anything she doesn’t feel is worthy. What are your thoughts?

What?! Whoa. No.

This is completely weird and inappropriate.

And I have so many questions: Has she ever rejected an item they proposed buying? Did she give them any particular guidance on the underwear piece of this excursion, and if so, what was was it?!  What on earth did they say to her when she told them to pick out bras and underwear?

In any case, if it was just her taking them shopping, it would be a generous gesture, if a bit boundary-crossing. Throw in needing to get her approval for the shoes and handbags and so forth, and it’s pretty controlling, but it’s more weird than outrageous.

But directing them to purchase bras and underwear? Insisting that she approve those bras and underwear first? Chastising them when they don’t put lingerie on hold for her to look at?

Um.

No.

If she were a man, this would be obvious perviness. I’m not sure if she gets a pass on that simply for being a woman, but I suppose it’s possible that it’s about being wildly inappropriately controlling in a somewhat psychotic Edward Cullen sort of way rather than perviness.

But it doesn’t really matter, because either way it’s outrageously inappropriate. Your friend should be straightforward with her and say something like, “Jane, I appreciate the clothing, but I prefer to buy my own underwear, thanks.”

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