Should stores relax dress codes to let workers show support for Black Lives Matter?
Everyone knows they are in Best Buy when they see a blue shirt associate or in Trader Joe’s when they come across crew members working in Hawaiian shirts. These images communicate a single, professional branding message to customers shopping in stores. That’s why retailers require uniform dress codes.
We are not, however, in normal times. The country is in the midst of continuing nationwide protests against racial inequality and abuses of power by police. Much of life, it sometimes seems, has been turned upside down by fear, grief and a longing for a new start that is more just and compassionate.
Associates, working on the frontline of retail, are not cut off from the events shaping society. In fact, it could be argued, they know better than most the pressures felt today. That’s why it is also not a surprise that workers, many of them younger, would want to in some way express their solidarity with causes, specifically Black Lives Matter (BLM), when events such as the police shooting of Rayshard Brooks in Atlanta continue to happen in America.
The decision by some associates at Starbucks and Wawa to wear BLM items has recently generated unwanted negative publicity for the two employers.
In Starbucks’ case, baristas were told that wearing BLM pins and shirts was not permissible on the job over concerns that doing so could be misinterpreted by some and lead to violence in shops.
As news of Starbucks’ policy spread, the coffee giant reconfirmed its commitment to racial equality and justice on social media. When that failed to assuage critics, Starbucks announced that it was changing its policy on BLM merchandise and, in fact, was producing 250,000 Starbucks-branded BLM t-shirts for baristas to wear.
An employee at a Wawa store in New Jersey recently left his job after he put on a facemask presented to him by a customer that included the phrases “Black Lives Matter,” “Say My Name” and “I Can’t Breathe.”
Andre Lynch III, 20, said he quit his job when his manager told him to put away the BLM mask and wear one provided by the store. The manager cited “everything that’s going on right now” as the reason.
Mr. Lynch said he had not received any complaints from customers during the two hours he wore the BLM mask. Wawa did, in fact, offer Mr. Lynch his job back the following day and reconfirmed its commitment to its “black associates and communities.”
A company spokesperson told NBC10, “We are currently working on ways through our diversity and inclusion efforts to enhance our uniform standards to enable our associates to express their support and we also will be posting signage in stores as part of that support.”
- Starbucks Will Allow Employees to Wear Black Lives Matter Apparel – The New York Times
- Worker Quits After NJ Wawa Bars Him From Wearing BLM Mask – NBC10
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Do you think that retail and restaurant employers should relax current dress codes to allow associates to display solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement? What actions would you take as an employer to be clear in your stance on the goals being expressed in protests across the country?