Employers have the right to set grooming policies—within limits. One thing you can’t demand: Grooming practices that may be impossible for some employees to follow.
Consider, for example, a rule that forbids facial hair. That could have a disparate impact on black men because of a genetic and permanent skin condition called pseudofolliculitis barbae. The condition affects up to 60% of black men and makes it impossible to maintain a closely shaved face.
Recent case: Amon Simon worked as a detention officer for Harris County. He is black and suffers from a severe case of pseudofolliculitis barbae. His dermatologist recommended that he maintain a “shadow beard.”
Simon’s employer had a policy that placed those with pseudofolliculitis barbae on limited-duty assignments. At first, Simon’s supervisor allowed him to work with the public despite his facial hair.
But then Simon was transferred from working in a predominately minority section of town to a predominantly white section. That’s when his supervisor said he had to go on limited-duty assignment back at headquarters because facial hair “won’t fly out here.”
Simon sued, alleging race discrimination.
The court said the case could go to trial because the grooming policy clearly had a disproportionate effect on black employees, and his employer could show no business necessity for the beard ban. (Simon v. Harris County Sheriff’s Department, et al., No. 08-2111, SD TX, 2010)