The urge for businesses that are customer-facing to have policies in place dictating the appearance of their staff is all too common. More easily than you may think, these policies can run the line of putting your business at risk, as there are several laws in place to protect appearance-related traits/qualities. Laws aside, you run the risk of losing top talent because of these policies, as job performance is not dependent on someone meeting a certain visual standard. Listen to this episode of “What the Hell Just Happened?!” to hear Paul Edwards sit down with CeCe Wilson to discuss the popular convenience store “Sheetz” and how their “perfect smile” policy wound them up in hot water on social media these past couple weeks.
Links and Related Reading
Smile! Or Don’t! Positivity Policies and the NLRB
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Voice Over: You’re about to listen to another episode of What The Hell Just Happened?! Join Paul Edwards and his guests as they discuss and sometimes even solve some interesting HR problems.
Paul: And… I’m gonna go off the rails sometimes and talk about whatever I want.
Paul: Hey CeCe, welcome to what the heck just happened in H.R. What are we going to talk about today?
CeCe: Thanks, Paul. Good to be here. OK, so we are going to talk about something that has been all over social media in some H.R. groups lately. And it involves a convenience store chain called Sheetz. Are you familiar with that?
Paul: I am familiar with Sheetz
CeCe: Sheetz, yeah. So they’re in North Carolina, Pennsylvania primarily, and Ohio and a couple of other states.
CeCe: So this particular incident occurred in one of their Ohio stores. So Sheetz has a policy, a perfect smile policy. And I’m going to play you some audio so that you can hear part of the conversation that occurred.
Audio from Sheetz –
If you can write or type out a letter one way or the other. It doesn’t matter what a written plan. In detail, including the time and the duration and cost of your plan to get it fixed. I know you said that you were going to have some work done?
They will not, my insurance will not pay yet for me to have a temporary one because of swelling and blah, blah, blah. So I have to wait three months for all the swelling to go down
That’s a long time for swelling
I have to wait three months for it to completely go down and they’re going to fit me up and then they’ll make them and then it can take up to six months to get them back.
So nine months total.
So, I mean, I know it’s an ongoing process, so. So if you can and I appreciate you being understanding with all of this because I had similar conversations that didn’t go well. So I really appreciate your understanding. I know it’s a difficult conversation. I’m sure.
It’s frustrating. I mean, I was hired this way. I feel like, to be honest, I probably will seek other employment because I feel like if my job performance is not enough and it has to be based on any part of my looks, it’s not a company I want to be associated with to be honest. I’m just baring it all.
This company has no idea what I’ve been through. I lost my front teeth because my ex-husband had head butted me because I forgot to turn the light out. So it’s not as if I was a drug user and things happened that way. I mean, it’s legit. It was a bad experience that happened in my life that I’m still trying to, but I feel like my job performance alone should be enough.
I don’t feel like I should have to justify myself. I’m very nice to the customers, the customers get along with me.
And I’ve heard wonderful things about you, I have.
I really am sorry that that’s the way you feel about us.
CeCe: OK, so I want to bring up one thing before we talk about the incident that’s super important. If you noticed. There was a whole lot of background noise and people interrupting this conversation. So this very sensitive conversation, first of all, happened in a very public area.
Paul: Yeah. Sounds to me like they might, either the doors open to an office or they’re
CeCe: Or out on the floor or they’re.
Paul: Or they’re out on the floor.
CeCe: But the overall thing that happened here is this employee was hired on. She was missing some of her teeth.
Paul: At the time.
CeCe: At the time she was hired.
CeCe: So Sheetz policy says that applicants with missing, broken or discolored teeth are not qualified for employment. There’s also a provision in that policy that current employees have 90 days to comply with the standards for their teeth in this policy.
Paul: OK. So I’m going to bring this up. I understand why they have the policy. Like, I get it. It’s a forward facing job. You’ve got somebody standing in front of you. And there are all kinds of things associated with people’s mouths, and working with the public. And I get it.
CeCe: Yeah, I do, too.
Paul: And I’m not sure I agree with it all the way in this particular instance, but I get I understand when they’re setting the standard.
CeCe: I understand why there is a standard that exists. Absolutely. And from what I understand from some research online, when I heard about this they’re in a lot of areas where you heard in the conversation that she referenced that she’s not a drug user, that’s not the reason for it. They’re in an area where that is probably part of what’s driving having this policy in the first place.
CeCe:. So this employee was hired like that about a month into her employment. Her manager approached her and started this conversation with her that her teeth were unacceptable and she needed a plan to get them fixed.
CeCe: This employee was already in the midst of having some work done or rectifying the problem in the course of that discussion. You heard her inform the manager that this was a result of a domestic abuse situation.
Paul: And I think that’s very, very important.
CeCe: It is
Paul:Specifically for those who are listening from this H.R. point of view that many states offer some protection in this area to employees, and I think rightfully so. And those protections or rights can extend to, you know, being able to take time off to go to court or being able to miss work on occasion because it’s directly related to, you know, something that’s going on around domestic violence.
Paul: But it’s a big time trigger. When she said that, and I think this is important to point out. When you’re a manager or an owner manager or an HR Person which most owners and managers end up being, you know, they end up being an HR Person, you have to educate yourself around this when these certain things are said in the course of a conversation. I don’t feel like this employee is doing anything other than telling her story.
Paul: And that manager, I’m not sure she was trained to hear the triggers that were going off.
CeCe: Yeah. And one thing I want to back up and say, there’s actually a couple of states that don’t just protect the time you might need. They also protect you as a class of being in a protected class because of.
Paul: Because of it
CeCe: of suffering domestic abuse.
CeCe: But in this particular state, that’s not the case however.
Paul: Regardless, we have a human problem going on here. We have a woman who has been headbutted by her husband, and had her teeth knocked out. She’s trying to get it fixed. And I don’t mean, I don’t care what the law is anywhere. I think that businesses ought to be able to try to find a way to help somebody like this and give them the time that they need.
CeCe: And here you have I’m going to guess that Sheetz does not often find people who really love being a cashier at a convenience store. That’s not a job that a whole lot of the population is finding some joy in and likes being there doing.
Paul: I’ll take that, too. Like, this is a thing that she said she likes to do. I love it. I love doing this. And that’s the other thing that’s hard to find is someone who just really excels at what they’re doing. She’s actually a candidate for management is what she is because at some point, if she loses her job, she’s and she’s good at it, they’re always looking for a good manager.
CeCe: And then you hear the manager acknowledge that she’s heard great things about her and yet doesn’t say, wait, let’s talk about this before you make that decision and let’s see if we can work with you.
Paul: So the manager, just kind of generally discussing this. I think the manager feels some obligation to adhere to her 90 day policy, she’s there to enforce the rules. And she’s been told, you know, hey, we weren’t even supposed to hire her with this problem. I know why they hired her because they couldn’t find good people she interviewed well and she and she’s doing and she actually is doing a good job.
Paul: So the manager’s trying to stick to the 90 day policy because that’s what she’s been told,She’s supposed to do. Don’t deviate from our policy. Right?
CeCe: Right. I mean, we’re guessing that it’s so prevalent, especially in the retail world. You’ve got H.R. At the corporate level and then in individual stores, the managers are tasked with enforcing policies and they’re often not given the training on how to discern when a policy really it’s imperative to follow it and when you should be a little human in your human resources.
Paul: And H.R. departments are overwhelmed because they’re overseeing 64 stores and they get an email with a vague question, which was probably or could have happened here. And they don’t give back to the store manager. Store manager has to do the best they can. So I’m not even going to beat up on the store manager and not really beating up on Sheetz.
Paul: This is a set of circumstances that come together and you can’t write policy to cover every single thing that’s going to come up.
Paul: It’s a guideline. And it’s the bumpers. You know, you put the bumpers up, you go bowling, most policies are bumpers.
CeCe: And that’s why it’s important to write them in the way that they are bumpers. And don’t say too explicitly that this can or cannot happen and give, you know, room to use some critical thinking judgment.
Paul: So the employee has said every trigger word that an H.R. person should hear. Somebody was recording this.
CeCe: The employee was the one recording this and posted it on her personal Facebook page. And it just kind of blew up from there
Paul: Yeah. As soon as it’s there, it gets copied and put on Reddit and any place else. Yeah. What else is going on around this? Anything? What do we know
CeCe: Well, the employee hasn’t, to my knowledge, as of yet anyway. Sot any sort of, you know, legal repercussions.
Paul: They may not be able to. Yeah, there may not be something readily available to them.
CeCe: I can’t think of any recourse that she would have. Right. I don’t think that they really did break any laws here. But certainly they’re suffering some bad publicity.
Paul: Yeah and certainly could have maybe, you know, in the moment handled it better.
CeCe: Oh, absolutely. Yeah. Yeah. To their credit, they have since taken this policy out of their handbooks. They’re not, they’re no longer adhering to this policy.
Paul: I think that that’s a really big thing that they did. I mean, seriously, we’re always you know, it’s easy to beat up on companies and owners and, you know, organizations but I think that that’s a super proactive step that they took. It’s a shame that this had to come this way, you know.
CeCe: And that that person had to suffer you know. And one publication went and spoke to some other employees who had stories of being denied promotions over the years. Because of their teeth and things like that. So this certainly isn’t the only person who potentially suffered, although we don’t have any proof of these other situations. So it sounds like something that employees were probably giving feedback about over the years.
CeCe: And this was just the one situation where.
Paul: It finally came back to.
CeCe: Blew up yeah. Came back at them and they said, you know what, this probably isn’t the best policy to keep in place anymore.
Paul: Yeah.Good decision on their part.
Paul: And if they can help their employees, I mean, as she was describing, this is going to take up to nine months to complete as long as she was going down it. I really don’t have a whole lot of problems with the appearance thing as long as they’re consistent with it. But, you know, if you can, you’ve got to help people
Paul: You know, you had to put things in place and I just think that’s the kind of the outcome. I mean, the takeaway from this.
CeCe: I agree with you. Yeah. We can have policies to protect our business, but once in a while, a situation maybe doesn’t fit in with the intent of the policy.
Paul: Wow. OK, well, I appreciate you bringing this. It just highlights that it’s not easy.
CeCe: It’s not easy
Paul: And one policy can’t always solve every single problem. And when you put a policy in place, you really want to constantly be able to go back and look at it and know how it’s impacting and the larger you are and the longer the policy’s been in place, really, the more important it is to kind of revisit your policies on an annual basis and kind of look at them and make sure that they’re not having some kind of disparate impact or negative impact where you never intended for it to be that way.
Paul: Yeah. All right. Thanks CeCe
CeCe: Thanks, Paul.
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