A story of huge debate in recent news has been the case between an applicant and Abercrombie & Fitch, in which the clothing retailer declined to hire Samantha Elauf, an observant Muslim woman, because her head scarf violated Abercrombie & Fitch’s dress code policy of no head coverings. The Supreme Court has ruled against Abercrombie & Fitch, stating that the employee does not need to specifically ask for a religious accommodation and remanded the trial back to the lower courts.
While an employer’s desire to maintain a certain type of look for their employees is understandable, whether that be professional, casual, etc., one has to ask, “What was Abercrombie & Fitch thinking???” Over and over again in case law, the courts have slapped the hands of employers who create hard and fast rules.
In all reality, if the assistant manager who declined to hire Elauf was trained on reasonableness and focused on a bit of flexibility, Abercrombie & Fitch would not be dealing with this PR nightmare, nor the huge legal expenses that tend to accompany such lawsuits.
As business owners, executives, managers, employees, and human beings we are called upon to make judgment calls every day. The further you climb and the more responsibility you have, the greater your decisions impact those around you. Do not take this charge lightly, but rather take the time to weigh the pros and cons of your decisions prior to making an arbitrary or bright line decision.
Consistently following the rules is absolutely necessary, but make sure that you are not so focused on the hard and fast rules that you lose sight of the purpose of the rule and the community it effects. Rules are there for a reason, but as a manager you are often called upon to interpret those rules and how they apply to your specific staff. If you don’t truly understand (or worse disagree with) the purpose of those rules, then take the time to find out.
Our challenge for you this week is not to challenge and modify rules, but rather to support your organization’s mission, be an example to those that look up to you, and bring back the reasonableness in the day to day application.