A former Claire’s associate is calling for the retailer to reexamine an employee policy after she refused to pierce a non-consenting child’s ear and subsequently had a negative experience with her manager.
Raylene Marks, who worked at a store in Edmonton, Canada, posted an “open letter” to the accessories giant’s corporate office on Facebook Sunday, where she detailed a “breaking point” she reached the previous week involving a 7-year-old customer that caused her to put in her notice.
“The girl pleaded and sobbed for 30 minutes not to be pierced,” Marks wrote. “Despite Mom saying, ‘Honey, we can go home whenever you want,’ she was not letting her daughter go home. She was putting a great deal of pressure on her daughter to go through with the piercing.”
She described the child as one who was “articulate, smart and well aware of herself and her body” who “expressed that she didn’t want us touching her, that we were standing too close, that she was feeling uncomfortable” — and “made it clear she no longer wanted to get her ears pierced.”
“She begged, over and over again, for Mom to please, just take her home,” Marks continued. “That child’s message was loud and clear to me: Do not touch my body, do not pierce my ears, I do not want to be here. I’m inclined to respect a child’s right to say, ‘NO,’ to any adult forcing any kind of non-medical contact on them, so I told the other piercer I wouldn’t be part of the ear piercing for this girl. To my great relief, in the end the mother respected her daughter’s wishes, and took her home.”
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Marks went on to allege that her disagreement with a company policy, based on a post-incident conversation with her manager, led to her voluntarily parting ways with the company.
“I explained the child that refused the piercing and begged to be left alone, and I told my manager that I would not have been able to pierce that little girl’s ears if Mom had insisted on it,” she wrote. “I was firmly told, ‘You would have had no choice but to do it.’ “
“So I brought up the worst scenario I could think of,” she continued. “I wanted to know how far we were supposed to take this policy of piercing non-consenting children. ‘So if a mother is physically restraining her daughter, holding her down and saying, “DO IT,” while that little girl cries and asks me not to, do I do the piercing?’ My manager did not hesitate to respond, ‘Yes, you do the piercing.’ “
Marks left her position after she “had a choice between facing disciplinary actions (that would eventually lead to my termination) the next time I refused to pierce the ears of children who withdrew their consent, or leaving on my own terms,” she claimed in her post.
“My manager continues to assert that the other Claire’s managers in this district are in agreement with her, and that our District Sales Manager confirms this policy is correct: Children can be held down and pierced,” Marks continued. “Children do not have a voice in the piercing process. The associate doing the piercing has no right to refuse to shoot metal through the ears of a child who begs not to be touched.”
She then cited Policy 509 in the Claire’s Policies and Procedures Manual, which allegedly states, “We reserve to the right to refuse an ear piercing if a successful one cannot be done” — and alleged that “There is no mention of the use of physical restraint by the parent, or the employee’s right to refuse an ear piercing if their concerns are for the emotional welfare of the child.”
“This is, by my point of view, a deeply flawed policy that helps facilitate situations where children can be traumatized or otherwise subject to forms of intimidation and abuse in-store,” Marks said. “I believe in upholding a child’s right to bodily integrity at all costs, and I will not be an adult that commits an indignity to a child.”
She concluded by asking the company to “Please do better” and “be accountable” — directly requesting that Claire’s “consider changing this policy that blatantly ignores every child who vocally protests, cries, shows obvious signs of distress or is physically restrained by their alleged guardian while they sob and beg to be released.”
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Marks later updated her post, sharing that Claire’s had contacted her “and expressed intentions to revise the policy” in question. (The post currently sits at more than 7,000 likes and 700 comments, with close to 2,000 shares.)
“I do hope Claire’s will release a public statement if and when their policies are revised,” she added. “To all those of you who have read my letter, shared it or opened up discussions about child consent with the people you care about: If Claire’s changes their policies, it will be because you helped make it happen. Thank you.”
In a statement to PEOPLE, a representative for the company said, “Claire’s has been piercing ears for more than 40 years, and has pierced over 100 million ears. Customer well-being is our main priority, and we ensure that any child piercing we do is carried out with the best care in consultation with, and with the agreement of the legal guardian.”
“In relation to the ear piercing incident involving the former employee Raylene Marks, we believe she acted appropriately and in line with our policy by refusing to do the piercing,” the rep continued. “The policy is in place to ensure that if a child is distressed or resisting, Claire’s employees have the right to refuse to continue the piercing. We are investigating the specific store instances she mentions, and will take appropriate corrective action. We will also be reviewing the policy to ensure that the intent is clear.”
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