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Wax On Wax Off

July 8, 2013

 

For those of you that remember the movie Karate Kid, this was the first lesson that Daniel was taught in his journey to become proficient at karate. Jennifer Finley had a much different encounter with waxing. Jennifer was hired by European Wax Center as a Wax Specialist. The pay wasn’t that great: $8 plus small commissions.

 

At first, Jennifer was supposed to spend the first few weeks building her client base which included contacting potential clients, passing out flyers and other assorted marketing tasks. Things changed when she was asked to report to work on October 1, 2012 for “training” with other new hires.

 

When Jennifer reported for work on October 1, a trainer, from the corporate offices of European Wax Center, show an introductory video and then told the new hires that they would be practicing their waxing techniques on each other’s legs. The trainer then told them that, on the following day, they would be practicing their “Brazilian Wax” technique on their fellow new hires. Only the female new hires would have to practice the Brazilian Wax technique on each other. The male new hires were not required to.

 

Jennifer objected to this portion of the training for a number of reasons. First,  the company did not disclose that Brazilian Wax session would be part of company provided mandatory training. Second, it is extremely painful. Third, she did not want to expose herself to her coworkers. Fourth, she expected her menstruation period to begin shortly.

After Jennifer objected, several of her coworkers also objected stating they were menstruating or beginning their menstruation. The trainer responded by telling those employees, including Jennifer, that the training was mandatory, and that they should “pop in a fresh tampon, take some ibuprofen, and you’ll be fine.”

 

Not only was Jennifer offended by the response, she was adamant that she would not participate in the Brazilian Wax training. She told the trainer that she felt it was unlawful for the employer to require training of this nature, that it was harassing and discriminatory, and it was a humiliating and embarrassing invasion of her privacy. She made it clear that she had no objection performing a Brazilian Wax on a voluntary paying customers, but that the company was attempting to wrongfully coerce her consent.

 

Eventually, Jennifer was able to speak to the spa owner who insisted that she agreed to mandatory coworker waxing session when she accepted the position. Jennifer responded by telling the employer that no one ever disclosed this to her and had they disclosed it, she would not have accepted the position. Jennifer was terminated for violating corporate policy. A lawsuit ensued. (For those of you that wish to read the lawsuit click here)

 

Lessons Learned.

 

Jennifer was right. She had no obligation to submit to this humiliating and degrading form of  “training.” There were number of ways the employer could have fulfilled the training obligation other than subjecting its female staff to this treatment under the guise of training. Interestingly, the employer did not feel that it was necessary for men to undergo a similar process as part of their “training.”

 

Jennifer reported and was vocal in her objections. One of the most important things an employee should do when faced with unwelcome and offensive conduct is to object. It is best to take that objection all the way up to the top,  if possible. Here, Jennifer not only objected to the corporate trainer but went directly to the spa owner and registered her objections.

 

The spa owner needs to have his head examined.  An employer should infuse all decisions with a strong dose of common sense and human decency. Let’s assume, for the sake of argument that the employer’s actions were not legally actionable. The employer, nevertheless, is asking the employee to engage in conduct that is so over the top that it offends common decency and will have the effect of humiliating and demeaning its female workers. By insisting that Jennifer participate in this “training”, the employer is demonstrating that it does not value its employees nor does it desire to build a culture where employees feel valued and want to stay. The byproduct is going to be a company with high turnover, unhappy employees and, most likely, high legal costs.

 

If you are not motivated by common sense, then at least think about how your actions will be viewed by a jury. There are some actions that, no matter how “legal” they appear, will offend notions of common decency held by every juror. You know what they are and I know what they are. I always warn employers to think about the long term repercussions before they act and whether your actions will cause irreparable damage to your team or to your brand.

As an attorney that represents both employers and employees, I can see this case from the perspective of sides. I’m not condoning the actions of the employer by any stretch of the imagination, especially since I have only read the plaintiff’s lawsuit and have not had the chance to see what if any defenses the employer will raise. However this appears to be on of those cases where a strong dose of common sense could have avoided a lawsuit.

 

Till next week,

 

Rod

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