A former Honey Birdette employee says she was harassed “on every shift” while working at the high-end lingerie brand and eventually sacked for “not being sexy enough” when a medical condition prevented her from complying with the stringent dress code.
Her revelations follow a protest and petition this week where ex-staff accused the company of ignoring complaints about a raunchy dress code that they say led to sexual harassment from customers.
Former employees – who aired the company’s dirty laundry outside its Melbourne Central store and burned their bras on the steps of Victoria’s state library on Thursday – also claimed a staff guide encouraged them to use inappropriate phrases to customers such as “Spank me if I’m wrong, but …”
Former Honey Birdette worker Jess Duff, 22, who held roles at several of the company’s outlets for more than a year during 2015-16, was scathing in her condemnation when describing her experiences to The New Daily.
“I would rather do nothing my whole life than have my name attached to something this catastrophic ever again,” she said.
“Honey Birdette will try and convince you that they represent power, pride and women alike. It’s an absolute joke.”
‘I was told to immediately unbutton’
Ms Duff said Honey Birdette’s sexually-charged strategy to sell products encouraged harassment and when workers complained, their objections weren’t taken seriously.
“Being told to flirt with male customers wasn’t just encouraged but was taught as a sales tactic,” she said.
“I have a large bust size and was reminded to hide my cleavage in the fear of intimidating potential female customers, but as soon as a male came in, I was told to immediately unbutton.”
She said “every shift” she received some form of harassment.
Honey Birdette has been contacted about Ms Duff’s claims but did not return calls from The New Daily on Friday.
The Honey Birdette employee staff handbook is so cringey and gross. Good on the staff for standing up for themselves, they shouldn't need to pic.twitter.com/SxGs8yiOri
— sensible sandwich (@rebenjamint) December 8, 2016
She noted stores she worked in didn’t have security cameras and “honeys” were taught to toughen up and defend themselves quickly when it came to customers sexually harassing them.
“I started boxing classes after my second shift where a man came into the store and put his hand down my top with the excuse he wanted ‘to see what bra I was wearing because he wanted to get it for his wife’,” she said.
“Unfortunately, our complaints always fell upon deaf ears. Management encourages you to come forward with issues for resolution, but instead outcasts you as someone who refuses to co-operate.”
Ms Duff is not the only employee to raise concerns about the company.
Outrageous dress code
Ms Duff said as part of the uniform they were told they must wear a full lingerie set from the current season, stockings, heels, heavy make-up and perfect hair.
She said all workers were expected to buy a new set every season, including stockings, underwear, suspenders, and a bra, costing between $300-$500.
Outfits had to be made from silk, chiffon, lace or satin with no stretch fabric allowed.
And when Ms Duff could no longer meet those demands, she was fired.
“I was fired for not being sexy enough,” Ms Duff said.
“I was diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome … One procedure left me with severe bruising just below my belly button and that made it really uncomfortable to wear tight clothing.
“So with the combination of not being able to wear tight skirts, and lessening the amount of make-up I wore in an attempt to fix my skin, I was deemed ‘not sexy enough’ to represent them.”
The Young Workers Centre told the ABC it was illegal under the current retail award to mandate that staff must buy and wear products, without reimbursing them for those purchases.
Company hits back
In response to the claims of sexual harassment and inappropriate sales stratagies made by protestors a Honey Birdette spokesperson told SmartCompany it is “all about empowering women and supporting our wonderful staff”.
“We are disappointed about the mistruths that have been reported recently,” the spokesperson said.
- with ABC