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Whole Foods employee says workers were sent home for refusing to remove anti-racism shirts, as the company faces protests over its dress code policy


July. 07, 2020

A Connecticut Whole Foods store prohibited a group of its employees on Saturday from wearing shirts printed with the phrase, "racism has no place here," an employee said of the store.
When employees showed up to work wearing the shirts, management at the Milford, Connecticut Whole Foods told them they had violated the company's dress code, said Graham Johnson, an employee who was among those reprimanded.
The Whole Foods employees were given three choices: they could turn their shirts inside out, change shirts entirely, or go home, Johnson said.
"Most of us chose to go home," said Johnson, who has worked for Whole Foods for more than two years. "We didn't feel it should be considered a violation of dress code because it's the company's own words."
Whole Foods has used the phrase "racism has no place here" in its own marketing materials concerning the Black Lives Matter movement, she said.
Whole Foods has meanwhile been facing near-daily protests at a store in Cambridge, Massachusetts, after employees of the store were sent home June 25 for refusing to remove their Black Lives Matter masks, the Boston Globe reported .
Whole Foods Erin Clark/The Boston Globe via Getty Images
Protestors and some local city officials are urging the company to change its dress code policy, according to the Globe.
In response to a Business Insider inquiry on the recent store incidents in Connecticut and Massachusetts, a Whole Foods spokesperson said, "In order to operate in a customer-focused environment, all Team Members must comply with our longstanding company dress code, which prohibits clothing with visible slogans, messages, logos or advertising that are not company-related.
"In an effort to enable Team Members to continue working their scheduled shifts, we always offer them the opportunity to comply with dress code, including providing new face masks when necessary," the spokesperson continued. "If they choose not to accept the alternatives, they cannot work until they are in compliance with our company policy."
Whole Foods employee says 30 workers were involved in making the anti-racism shirts
Johnson said a group of about 30 employees at the Milford store decided to make the "racism has no place here" shirts to show support for a coworker who had been previously prohibited from wearing a Black Lives Matter mask. About 15 workers planned to wear the shirts on Saturday, she said.
Johnson said she believes employees were unfairly targeted for wearing gear addressing racism, because the store doesn't have a history of strictly enforcing its dress code policy. Whole Foods did not respond to this claim.
"We believe we are being targeted for speaking up about the injustices that are going on right now," Johnson said. "We've never had an issue with dress code at our store before now."
"If you went into any Whole Foods store you would see a ton of employees wearing things that are out of dress code," she continued. "Every day that is happening at our store and no one says anything."
Whole Foods Erin Clark/The Boston Globe via Getty Images
She said Whole Foods management told her that if she continued to wear the shirt, she would get an infraction. Whole Foods employees risk termination if they accrue three infractions and a final warning, she said.
Whole Foods confirmed that violation of company policies can result in disciplinary action. The company also said it has zero tolerance for retaliation and takes steps to ensure it does not impinge on employees' legal rights.
Johnson said she hoped Whole Foods would change its dress code policy to allow them to continue wearing the "racism has no place here" shirts. She said she also hoped the company would consider additional training for leaders on implicit bias and discrimination.
"I've witnessed a lot of instances in my store of people who are people of color dealing with racist customers and even team members who are discriminating against them," she said. "There needs to be better training" to help leaders deal with those situations, she said.
Whole Foods said its existing leadership training includes racial sensitivity awareness, but "as part of our commitment to action, we are enhancing our career development programs to strengthen the focus on promoting diversity of all types in leadership and the importance of promoting a true spirit of inclusion in the workplace."
"Additionally we've announced the launch of an Inclusion Task Force comprised of Team Members from our stores, facilities and offices across all regions of the company," the Whole Foods spokesperson said.
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