Monday, September 10, 2018

Do you really want to be the employer that bans your employees from wearing Nike products?

Last week, Nike launched its new ad campaign featuring (former) NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick. He's most famous for being the first NFL player to kneel during the national anthem. As a result, he's become a lightning rod around our national conversation about race relations. He claims the NFL has blackballed him because of his outspokenness on the issue.

Not all are thrilled that Nike has chosen this controversial athlete as the spokesperson for its new ad campaign. Many have burned their own Nikes in protest. Yet, despite the outrage, it appears Nike might have known exactly what it was doing. It's sales have increased 31% since the ad launched.

Nevertheless, those that oppose Colin Kaepernick and for what he stands continue to push the anti-Nike issue.

For example, shortly after the ad premiered, a photo went viral on social media. The pic is of a sign outside an unknown employer's business, informing its employees, "ALL NIKE PRODUCTS ARE NOW BANNED FROM THIS PLACE OF EMPLOYMENT."

For what it's worth, Snopes has been unable to verify "whether the sign was posted and photographed as a hoax, a prank, or a joke, or whether the management of some as-yet unknown company posted the sign in earnest outside their offices as part of a genuine policy banning the wearing of Nike apparel.

There is nothing clearly illegal about this sign or the policy it announces. I can see a race-based argument, or an argument around political-belief discrimination (if your state prohibits it), but I also cannot see such an argument succeeding. Of course, if your discriminatorily enforce the policy to target a particular protected group, all legal bets are off.

Yet, legal or illegal, what signal does this policy send to your employees? Do you want Stepford employees? Do you want a homogeneous workforce where everyone thinks and acts and dresses the same, and is punished for expressing themselves differently? It's one thing to have a personal appearance policy (no offensive clothing, neat appearance, etc.), but another to ban a company's products because you, as an employer, disagree with its choice of spokespeople. It's certainly not a workplace at which I would want to work.

You are free to disagree with Nike, and Colin Kaepernick, and anyone else who thinks it's okay to take a knee, just as your employees are free to agree. Imposing your beliefs on your employees? Is this the type of employer you want to be?

Readers, what do you think? Should employers be free to ban employees from wearing Nike products? Legal or illegal? And, regardless, good or bad HR? Share your thoughts in the comments below.