Bra-Free Overview

(Breast Freedom)

Blowing the Whistle on
Bra Harassment at Work

September 6, 2018

For many women, the first thing they do when they get home from work is to rip off their uncomfortable bra. In the post-#MeToo world, women are finally asking why they need to wear bras to work in the first place. Some are even refusing to wear bras at work, defying a sexist dress code. One of these women was fired as a result, and she is fighting back.

The BC Human Rights Tribunal will be hearing the human rights complaint of Christina Schell, who lost her job at Osoyoos Golf Club in Osoyoos, B.C., because she refused to wear a bra, as reported by the CBC. She claims bras are uncomfortable and a risk to breast health.“I just thought I am a human being. I can choose my underwear,” she explained to medical anthropologist Sydney Ross Singer, who is supporting Schell’s bra-free rights, and is calling on Canadian women to stand up to this abuse.

Singer is a breast cancer researcher and the co-director of the Institute for the Study of Culturogenic Disease along with his wife and co-researcher, Soma Grismaijer. For the past 25 years they have been warning about the constrictive nature of bras and how that interferes with breast health. Their information about the hazards of bras is one reason that propelled Schell to ditch her bra. “I explained to my boss all the health reasons for not wearing a bra, but he fired me anyway,” Schell explains.

According to Grismaijer, who no longer wears a bra, “Bras cause chafing, irritation, over-heating of the breasts, reduced lymph circulation, breast droop, and are an overall pain.” She claims that there are many women like Schell who want to be bra-free and comfortable at work, but who feel alone and unsupported in their right to be bra-free, so they suffer in silence.

Nadia Zaman, Employment and Human Rights Lawyer at Rudner Law in Ontario, says that dress codes which require female employees to wear a bra may be discriminatory based on the protected ground of sex under human rights legislation. Sexual harassment and gender-based dress codes are no longer being tolerated, she explains. "If the employer requires that female employees wear a bra but then they don't have a similar requirement for males, and they cannot justify that as a genuine occupational requirement, then there is a risk that their policy is going to be deemed to be discriminatory," she says. "In some cases, employers may be obligated to accommodate employees if there are legitimate health concerns," she adds. Zaman has written and spoken about this topic on various platforms, including Canadian HR Reporter, Canadian Employment Law Today, CBC and Radio Canada International.  

“This could be a watershed moment for women’s health and rights,” says Grismaijer. “Women need to stand behind Schell and insist on their own right to be comfortable and free from bras at work if that is what they choose.” Singer and Grismaijer are calling for women throughout Canada to assert their human right to choose whether or not to wear a bra at work. 

Blow the whistle on bra harassment by reporting cases of abuse to BraFreeRights@gmail.com.