Should you have a Responsible Costume policy for Halloween?

I was at Starbucks last night and although its not even Halloween yet, a customer came in wearing a full Nazi regalia (he was apparently going to a costume party). Two years after Prince William apologized for the Nazi costume he wore you would think people would learn but … not really. A jewish customer was angered by the sight of this person sitting sipping his coffee and a kafuffle ensued. I, along with a couple dozen customers, were not able to leave the store because the commotion was right at the store’s entrance and only visible exit to the place.

Here were issues that I thought of (and maybe you can comment on each one as we think this through).
On the part of the store manager
1. Would you have any liability if you didn’t do anything? What is the extent of your liability?
2. Would your liability as a representative of the company be removed once you ask the two individuals in an almost-brawl moment to leave the premises, even if they don’t leave?
3. Would your liability change if you only ask one of the two individuals to leave the premises. The Nazi wearing customer was not doing anything except buy your product and sit and enjoy the beverage while another customer throws the paper cup to mar the costume of the other customer so you throw the screaming customer instead.

On the part of the organization as a whole
1. Is the store not liable for anything because they did not do anything but just be the location where the tumult occurred?
2. If the person who was being screamed at was your employee whom you’ve allowed to dress up because it was Halloween, what would your liability and responsiblity be?

On the part of the client wearing the customer
1. Is this a hate crime? The costume wearing customer said so when he tried calling the cops. (I didn’t wait for them to arrive) Do you agree with the customer’s argument?

On the part of the customer who was agitated in the first place by the sight of the clothing
1. Was he in the right when he was angered by the sight of the other person’s costume?

Overall I also thought of clothing policies. We’ve seen what happened with Jet Blue here and Southwest Airlines here and here. Having a clothing policy for one’s employees is one thing but not for clients right? So how will you handle such a situation?

A final thought came about after hearing one of the baristas, Matt aka Baby Couture, said “When I’m in drag, I know that I could potentially be beaten up by people if I walk to certain parts of the city so I don’t go there.” Is it really therefore the fault of the person who decided to wear a Nazi costume in the first place?

What do you think of all of this? What is the ethics of responsible costuming and should you have a dress code policy?

1 comment to Should you have a Responsible Costume policy for Halloween?

  • Fascinating concepts here, Robin. Was this person really wearing a Halloween costume, or simply dressing in bad taste for some reason or another.

    Tasteless to be sure, but I really think free speech is a valuable benefit of living in a free society. Free speech among customers, that is, as employees have their own policy.

    Of course, free speech in costumes and dress does lead to racial profiling. Alas, this is a thorny issue!