Private employers have the right to set their own dress and grooming codes. Within limits, that includes restricting an employee’s facial hair and insisting on a clean-shaven face unless an employee can’t shave because of a documented medical condition or religious requirement.
Recent case: Joseph, a security guard, wore a goatee. For many years, his beard didn’t cause any problems until company policy changed and prohibited security personnel from sporting any type of facial hair other than a simple mustache.
Joseph returned from vacation and was called into his supervisor’s office. There, he learned about the new policy. He also found out that those belonging to religions that ban shaving facial hair could be excused, as could men who had a medical reason for not shaving. Joseph decided to keep his goatee, insisted that he simply had the personal right to wear a goatee. However, Joseph never mentioned a medical condition.
When Joseph was fired for refusing to shave, he sued, claiming his employer discriminated against him based on his personal appearance and that he had a constitutional right to express himself through facial hair. He also pointed out that another employee who told his supervisor he needed to wear a beard hadn’t been fired.
The court said none of that mattered. It noted that Joseph worked for a private employer, not a public one. The court said different rules apply in the public sector, where, under some circumstances, a man’s facial hair could be seen as an expression of rebelliousness or anti-establishment attitudes and therefore amounts to political expression.
And since Joseph never told anyone he had an underlying medical condition, he couldn’t claim disability discrimination either. His case was dismissed. (Simpson v. Charles Drew University, No. B238707, California Court of Appeal, 2nd Appellate District, 2013)
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