As we know personal image is important in our industry. If an individual applied to work at your facility and was wearing his or her religious attire (yalmulke, scarf, turban) would that have an influence on whether your hired the individual or not? It is likely that no matter how someone presented him/herself, if they were a prospective customer, we would appreciate his/her patronage. Would applying for a position, described as above, at your facility be a game changer for you?
This is where my education comes in handy!
Believe it or not, religious freedoms are not necessarily protected in the private sector. Unless your fitness facility is receiving funds from the government, or has a government stake, it’s a completely privately owned business, and laws such as “affirmative action” that apply for larger or multi-national corporations do not always apply to your privately owned business.
I don’t think that any savvy business owner can say that these things (wearing a yarmulke, turban, etc) would NOT influence a hiring decision.
If I’m a private facility owner (meaning my facility depends on no public funds/tax dollars and gets no government incentives), the two and most important things that I have to keep in mind are the satisfaction of my customers, and the welfare of my business.
No matter how unbiased or objective I am in hiring a diverse staff, I have to keep in mind that perception is reality; and in certain areas of larger cities, it may be prudent to hire someone of a particular sect to work there because that employee will identify with a larger number of current and potential customers.
At the same time, if I have a privately owned facility in a high-class Christian-type conservative neighborhood, and I get a Jewish or Muslim or whatever applicant, I would make a decision in the following manner:
1.) How does this person exhibit his/her religious preference? Is this person very outspoken? Did he show up with a turban and beard or wearing his yarmulke? If he’s Jewish, is he an Orthodox Jew? If so, that means he won’t work on the Sabbath (sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday) and I could need someone to work those hours specifically.
2.) How will my clients and customers react to this individual? I have to be able to understand not only the needs of my facility, staff, and customers, but also the values of the community that I’m serving. Can the community handle this? Will they?
3.) Is this person able to work with diverse populations? I need to know that when push comes to shove, there will be no pushing and shoving. As much as it hurts to say it, when a client or customer decides to “go off” on this person, I need to know that this person is going to know that the customer is always right, initially, no matter how ignorant or belligerent that customer may be. We can sort out the details and kick that customer out for conduct violations later.
4.) How does this person’s special requests (if any) and his/her abilities fit the needs of my facility and its customers?
These are just a few of the major issues that would need to be addressed when making a hiring decision like the one we’re talking about.
If I really wanted to hire a person who had some hardcore beliefs, I would have to remind the individual that I (the facility) reserve the right to request that he or she not come to work with the yarmulke or turban, for example, in order to separate personal and professional life. I might also tell the Orthodox Jew that I’ll try my best to work around the Sabbath, but there may be a few days out of the year that he will just have to work on that day, regardless. These days, that’s something that most people will understand (because they’re happy to have a job). 99 percent of the time, this is 100% legal. It’s all about contracts and policies of the private facility.
If a problem results from the show of belief, or if I believe that I’m losing business because of it, or if the needs of my facility can’t be met because of this belief, that’s when it comes time to remove the turban or the yarmulke, for example, so that my facility can survive. If the individual refuses to acquiesce to those requests, that’s ok, he/she doesn’t have to work at my privately owned facility anymore. Because of the steps I’ve taken, the policies and procedures that I’ve put into place, and considering that the operation of the facility is in no way affiliated with the government, there is nothing illegal about firing this person based on his/her refusal to comply with the demand that he suppress himself.
Remember, your facility is most likely incorporated (it should be if it is not!). Your corporation is like a person. This person also has rights that must be protected. The employee’s rights stop where the corporation’s rights begin, and vice versa. Consider your facility as a private citizen. You don’t have to let someone into your house if you aren’t comfortable doing so, and you can tell someone to leave for any reason. This is somewhat similar to the situation at hand, but…
It’s a slippery slope and there are many rights that corporations are NOT afforded, but the scenario above is a good example (roughly) of a situation where the corporation can infringe on an employee’s Constitutional rights. There are still a lot of factors that could come into play, however.
Hope that made sense. =)