Breast Cancer

Does “professionalism” require a woman to disguise the effects of a mastectomy?

Recently, a woman wrote to Ask a Manager with a question about the workplace, professional dress, and breast cancer surgery. In her letter, she explained that she’d had a double mastectomy with reconstruction. However, the reconstructive surgery failed on one side, leaving her noticeably asymmetrical until she can try for reconstruction again in the summer.

The woman has an external implant which fits in her bra and produces the illusion of matching breasts. However, she doesn’t like to wear it. She explained, “

She hadn’t thought much about the impact on her professional appearance, as her office doesn’t have a dress code, and she doesn’t wear cleavage-baring clothing. Then one of the managers asked to talk to her about how her post-mastectomy look was affecting her co-workers. She wrote:


Now the woman is in a sticky situation. She didn’t commit to wearing the prosthetic, but she knows that the manager is expecting her to do so. Does a professional appearance require matching breasts? She wrote:

While the woman was unsure if office etiquette demands a boob cushion, advice columnist Alison Greene had no doubts. Greene flatly rejected the idea that the woman should have to “alter the appearance of your chest to suit anyone else, least of all coworkers.”

Greene called it “outrageous,” that her co-workers would complain about the state of someone’s breasts after cancer surgery. And it was even worse that a manager would bring it up and expect her to do something in response. Greene suggested a way to address it with the manager:


She added that if the manager doesn’t apologize and drop it, the woman could mention that cancer is protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Suggesting that cancer victims need to wear a prosthesis could take the company into nasty legal territory.

While the woman would be justified in taking an angry tone with the manager, Greene noted that a “collaborative” tone might help ease the tension. She also recommended that if the company has an HR department, it would be better to go straight to them.

And if that doesn’t work? While one could try to bring the manager to his senses by outlining the absurdity of the request, Greene has another recommendation: “Honestly if it gets to this point, talk to a lawyer because it’s past the point of reasoning with them.”

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22 Replies to “Woman’s Co-Workers Don’t Like Her Post-Mastectomy Appearance, So Manager Asks Her to Wear Prosthetic”

  • Kat 1 year ago

    Having been in management and worked with associates all the time this was completely illegal for the manager to do. Definitely take it to HR or higher ups and seek legal representation if you think/fear negative repercussions for calling the manager on this behavior

    • Anonymous 1 year ago

      Agreed. This is outrageous and illegal.

  • Gayle 1 year ago

    This is completely insensitive to this woman’s medical problem and it is NOT her responsibility to take a “collaborative” tone to “ease tensions” created by this manager. She should immediately seek legal advice and forward the results to HR. She should also request the company implement sensitivity training be mandatory for all management personnel. The company should be made aware that if she were to file a lawsuit, even if she did not win, she could bury them in paperwork for months.

  • Tammy Quade 1 year ago

    What would the manager have done it the employees breast were obviously different sizes??? Require her to wear padding???? Or if a male had one or both breasts enlarged, maybe due to medication? Would they require him to bind his??? This is going way too far and imho, sounds like sexual discrimination/harassment.

    • Glenda 1 year ago

      Yes, in my opinion I believe this could definitely fall under discrimination/harassment charges. This is totally uncalled for & disgusting on management, shame on them!!!

  • Nancy 1 year ago

    This is appalling. I had a double mastectomy with reconstruction 6 years ago. If I were working, and someone said this to me, I’d hire a lawyer and sue, and I’m not a litigious-minded person. After this kind of surgery, some women, myself included, find wearing any kind of bra very uncomfortable. It’s very insensitive to someone who has had to go through the whole cancer experience. Have some compassion, people!

  • Dennis H Foster 1 year ago

    Missing a breast, leg, arm, eye, ear. So what? These judgmental people make me sick.

    • Elizabeth 1 year ago

      Didn’t even think about that. Wonder if this would fall under the “disability” act since her body was altered for medical purpose.

  • Jomola 1 year ago

    I had a partial radical mastectomy 10 years ago. I do not wear a prosthesis nor do I ever intend to. If anyone every tried to have this conversation with me, my response would be “why the hell do you think it’s appropriate for my co-workers to comment on my breasts?!” Goes back to this “snowflake” atmosphere that has become prevalent — if I am uncomfortable about something then someone needs to fix it. Well guess what – there are some things you cannot fix. I have no intention of undergoing reconstructive surgery – I have had enough with doctors poking and prodding me. No one has the right to tell me what to do with my body – especially a co-worker. This woman should have marched right up to HR and filed a complaint. Collaboration? My mother’s corset cover – this is sexism, pure and simple!

  • D 1 year ago

    THIS IS SEXUAL HARRASSMENT, plain and simple! Talk to an attorney.

  • Jesica 1 year ago

    Not only is this insensitive, but talking about a woman’s breasts is sexual harassment. How dare they? Ugh, the woman fought breast cancer and someone else is uncomfortable?
    This whole thing angers me….

  • Vivian Broadhead 1 year ago

    Does she work in an office of millennials? I cannot even imagine someone thinking that their discomfort with another persons appearance has real weight and value especially in this specific scenario. I’d go straight to a lawyer and name, not just the company but the manager and all of those people who pushed the manager to the point of this absurd conversation, in a lawsuit. Someone needs to set these people straight. Your personal discomfort with a situation doesn’t mean you get to demand others change. This nonsense needs to end. Such selfish and self absorbed behavior needs correction.

  • Elizabeth 1 year ago

    One it is sexual harassment. Two, if they are REQUIRING her to wear it then they MUST pay for it because it is now considered a “UNIFORM.” Third what a jerk.

  • JEAN f CRAIG 1 year ago


  • Sara 1 year ago

    I personally don’t think it is any of their business.I had cancer as a baby although it was a brain tumor, the surgery resulted in me ending up with Cerebral Palsy because the tumor was so close to my brain stem. I walk with a gait and I have scoliosis. I had option of having surgery on my back to correct the scoliosis as a kid but I opted out because of the out come of this operation. Now had I been on a job and someone approached me saying that I need the surgery to make them feel comfortable. I would flip my lid and tell them where to stick it.

  • Penny 1 year ago

    People are insensitive and sometimes just plain stupid. I bet if she was wearing low cut shirts and was “perfect” not a word would have been said.RIDICULOUS!!!

  • Lindsey 1 year ago

    Is that even legal for him to ask her such a thing? It is a medical issue and there is not actual dress code and she does keep covered. Hmm I’m really curious on the legal aspect of this

  • Sarah McCrory 1 year ago

    no she is the millennial Vivian Broadhead.
    “I wasn’t told who exactly complained, but apparently it’s a few guys who work in my area (not my own team). I’m a woman in my late twenties and most guys in the office are 40 or over.”

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  • Buzz 12 months ago

    I say these people that complained should just shut up. This young woman beaten back a horrible disease and shouldn’t be burdened with some idiots not liking a womans chest not looking symmetrical.
    I have dated 2 woman that had double mastectomy’s and it was a little while before they could honestly believe that their not having breasts didn’t bother me.

  • Anonymous 12 months ago

    Makes me want to punch them, I wouldn’t, but I want to. Wtf

  • Anonymous 11 months ago

    fire the two me

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Woman’s Co-Workers Don’t Like Her Post-Mastectomy Appearance, So Manager Asks Her to Wear Prosthetic

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