our company ID badges are causing people to stare at women’s chests

A reader writes:

A friend who works at a different company has described this problem, and I’m not sure what to say to her: Her company has instituted a policy that requires employees to wear badges with full name and picture, on a lanyard around their neck. No other location, no matter how visible, is acceptable. This causes the badge to hang at mid-breast level. My friend is large-chested and somewhat sensitive to people staring. She feels like she, and other women, are now having their chests stared at in a demeaning manner by facilities/security.

She has attempted to discuss this problem with her company’s security/facilities people, who have adamantly refused to change the
policy. She has attempted to work with her company’s HR, which has acknowledged that staring does happen but insists on a “need to comply with security.”

What advice can I offer her? My instinct is “it’s time to talk to a lawyer” but she’s been at this company for over 10 years, really likes the work, and is afraid to upset a good workplace over a policy that was just introduced a few months ago.

I’m not a lawyer and it’s possible that you’d hear a different answer from someone who is, but I would be very, very surprised if a company requiring badges to be worn like this met the legal standard for harassment.

Companies usually want ID badges to be displayed at roughly chest level so that they’re close to eye level. That said, I can’t imagine why your friend’s company isn’t open to allowing the badge location to be modified slightly, or simply allowing them to be clipped to a shirt rather than having to dangle from a lanyard.

Your friend might have a better chance of getting the policy changed if she can get other women to complain along with her. (Alternately, can she shorten the length of the lanyard? That might solve the problem too.)

But I’d also point out that the real problem likely isn’t the location of the badges but the lecherous staring, if that’s what’s happening. People who ogle coworkers inappropriately are going to do it with or without an ID badge, and it’s not happening just because she suddenly put on a lanyard. Your friend should be able to walk around her workplace without being ogled, no matter where her ID badge happens to land, and that’s where I’d focus.

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