Starbucks closes over 8,000 stores on Tuesday for racial bias training
May 29, 2018
Following an incident in Philadelphia involving two African American men arrested after an employee called the police because they didn’t order anything, Starbucks closed over 8,000 stores for three hours for racial bias training. The charges were later dropped.
Firms are not required to conduct a racial or implicit bias training. It’s a company-by-company decision to provide the training, as the federal government doesn’t mandate anti-discrimination training of any employer. Is it unusual for a business as large as Starbucks to shut down to conduct a non-mandatory training? Michelle Swan, partner at Radix Law, says yes.
“I haven’t seen this particular training module, but my understanding is that for the past month they’ve been working on it with the NAACP and other groups,” Swann says. “I’m curious to see what the training module is, given that there is so much skepticism about whether this training works.”
The social science surrounding implicit bias is mixed, Swann says. It’s a fifty-fifty chance a judge will allow an implicit bias expert to testify, because the science is unreliable.
While bias training isn’t a common tool, there are methods that are popular among employers to prevent bias. Many employers will remove the name of an applicant before reviewing their application because it’s easy to assume someone’s gender and ethnicity from a name. Swann says those methods that are already in place have been shown to work effectively.
When a customer or employee claims racial bias against a company, then what happens? Swann says the most important step is to open an investigation. There’s an obligation from the employer to keep their employees and customers safe, and there are times when those two sides come into conflict.
“You need to find out why [they’re making this claim],” Swann says. “What is the basis of this person’s complaint? Identify any witnesses and get to the bottom of what happened so you have protection against yourself.”
Starbucks is also going over its policy that states their restrooms are permitted only to paying customers. Swann says there isn’t a law about such a rule in Arizona, rather it’s a policy adopted by a business.
“I think what Starbucks is doing is certainly on the right path,” Swann says. “I don’t see any harm that could come out of this. I understand they’re paying people who won’t be working, but I don’t see how there’s any sort of damage to the employer. I do think it needs to be realistic, because they’re going to have quite a turnover.”