The sign outside the Tioga-Franklin Savings Bank on Girard Avenue near Oxford

For some businesses, maintaining both security and inclusive policy can be a delicate balance.

The Tioga-Franklin Savings Bank on Girard Avenue near Oxford displays signs that ask customers to remove “all head coverings and sunglasses prior to entering the bank.” The message isn’t necessarily referring to religious garments such as hijabs, burqas or yarmulkes — but, by definition, it doesn’t allow them either.

In this case, bank staffers insist they’d never discriminate against their customers.

“We do have customers who wear head coverings for religious uses,” Tioga-Franklin operations specialist Amanda Keiper told Billy Penn. “We’ve never forced anyone to remove it.” The policy is meant to target ski masks, and is rarely enforced at all, she added, since staffers know so many of their customers personally.

It’s common for financial institutions across the country to post signs that ask customers to remove caps and sunglasses before entering. After all, that’s basically the standard uniform for bank robbers, police say.

But despite their intentions, if banks aren’t careful about their policies, they can discriminate against people who wear head coverings for religious reasons. Some banks have been slapped with lawsuits for insisting people remove those head coverings before entering.

Being specific is the best move

From the city’s perspective, the signage at Tioga-Franklin could be improved.

The language it uses is not ideal, said Rue Landau, executive director of the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations. Because the wording doesn’t specify, it could lead people who wear religious head coverings to believe they’re not welcome inside — even if that’s not the bank’s intention.

“This is a vague policy,” Landau explained to Billy Penn, “and that could have a discriminatory effect.”

Credit: Michaela Winberg / Billy Penn

The best way to make all customers feel comfortable on the premises, she said, is to use very specific language.

“It’s better to name it, including from a business practice,” Landau said. “You want people from all faiths to do business with you.”

Under Philly’s Fair Practices Ordinance, banks are considered places of public accommodation. That means they legally can’t ask for religious head coverings to be removed.

“If I come in with a baseball hat, yes, you’re allowed to tell me to remove my hat,” Landau said. “If I come in with a yarmulke, you’re not allowed to tell me that.”

But the enforcement of this rule can be complicated. For a bank to be found in violation of the ordinance, per Landau, it has to very deliberately discriminate — its signs would have to call out religious head coverings directly, or bank employees would have to ask someone to remove them.

Many banks skip signs altogether

Landau hasn’t heard of this happening at any local spots. In fact, many Philadelphia banks don’t post about head coverings at all.

Billy Penn surveyed 10 local banks including Tioga-Franklin, and three-quarters of them didn’t have any signage about customers’ garments at all (though they did all have security guards on deck).

[table id=101 /]

It turns out that Philadelphia branches of PNC Bank and Santander both follow the guidelines — they post signs that explicitly instruct customers to remove caps and sunglasses.

“PNC staff also are trained to identify and respect those entering a branch location who may be wearing attire that is in keeping with personal or religious beliefs,” said PNC spokesperson Jason Beyersdorfer.

Credit: Michaela Winberg / Billy Penn

That Landau hasn’t heard about an instance of discrimination in a Philly bank doesn’t mean one has never occurred. If you’re being discriminated against, you can contact PCHR directly to report it.

“If you’re told to remove a religious head covering, you could file a complaint with our office,” Landau said. “That would be discrimination.”

Michaela Winberg is a general assignment reporter at Billy Penn. She covers LGBTQ people and culture, public spaces, and transportation and mobility. She also sometimes produces radio and web features...