Recently I noticed that the two bank branches where I bank have implemented security measures that would improve workplace safety for their employees. One bank branch put in a clear glass wall to protect tellers while the other bank branch is locked and requires customers to call at the door to be let in to the bank.
The two banks deserve credit for increasing employee safety, but does increased security at banks raise public accommodation issues?
“Banking while black”, a shorthand phrase describing the denial of service of African-Americans at financial institutions, has drawn media attention recently. Is there a way to reconcile two important interests – workplace safety and public accommodation or civil rights laws — that might be in conflict?
At first glance, I don’t see why increased security at banks should conflict with public accommodation laws.
How security at banks promotes workplace safety
I have been writing about retail worker safety for a few years and bank tellers are particularly vulnerable in bank robberies. A study by the Indiana Department of Labor found that glass barriers were one effective way to protect retail workers, like bank tellers, from violence. Even if a bank teller is fortunate enough to avoid physical injury in a robbery, they are still vulnerable to mental trauma. Mental injuries are particularly troubling because bank tellers, like all workers besides certain workers involved in public safety, have no coverage for purely mental injuries under Nebraska workers’ compensation law.
Workers could bring a negligence case which could be part of the impetus for banks putting in increased security measures at their branches.
But security measures can have downsides. Anybody who has been delayed at a TSA checkpoint can attest to that fact, but security can also raise public accommodation issues.
Public accommodation laws and “banking while black”
African-Americans in Ohio, Florida and Washington have reported being unable to complete financial transactions at banks due to their race. A 40-something professionally dressed white male, like me, shouldn’t have a problem being let into a locked bank branch. It might be different if I were a person of color.
In Nebraska being hassled or refused service by a financial institution on the basis of race would run afoul our state’s civil rights laws. It would also run afoul federal civil rights laws as well as potentially leading to cases for breach of contract and interference with contractual rights.
In the Ohio, Florida and Washington cases, physical entry into the bank branch has not been an issue. The issue has been the inability to complete a transaction despite meeting the requirements of the financial institution such as having an account and or having proper identification. For now, it doesn’t appear that physical security at a bank has been used to deny service based on race. The problem of banking while black appears to be one of applying procedures differently to the detriment of African-Americans based on their race. I hope that lessons learned by banks in cases about applying procedures differently to African-Americans can be implemented into how banks apply heightened security at their branches.