Close Shave: Is it Legal to Set a No-Beard Policy for Male Staff? — Business Management Daily: Free Reports on Human Resources, Employment Law, Office Management, Office Communication, Office Technology and Small Business Tax Business Management Daily

Close Shave: Is it Legal to Set a No-Beard Policy for Male Staff?

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Anyone watching the Sasquatch convention baseball playoffs this past month noticed that most of the Boston Red Sox players looked like they hadn’t shaved since Spring Training. The Sox rode their unkempt culture all the way to a World Series title.

That’s got some leaders wondering ... can we use that same beard power in our organizations?

Red Sox fan and Massachusetts Sen. Edward Markey guffawed on TV yesterday that, “I’m recommending to the (Obama) administration to have everyone working on the health care website to grow beards until we get that right.”

While some employers make take a liking to such beard bonding in the workplace, others demand a clean-shaven culture, much to their employees’ dismay (especially in Boston this week).

So can your organization set a no-beard policy for its male employees?

Basically, private employers do have the right to set their own dress and grooming codes. That can include setting limits on employees’ facial hair, unless the employees cite:

Religious reasons: EEOC regulations say that, unless it would be an “undue hardship,” employers must reasonably accommodate their employees’ religious beliefs and practices. The EEOC says that can include “wearing certain hairstyles or facial hair (such as Rastafarian dreadlocks or Sikh uncut hair and beard).”

A New Jersey Lexus dealership faced a lawsuit a couple years ago when it told a sales candidate he was “just what they wanted,” but could he please go without the beard and turban? He said no and the dealership said “no” to the job.

Medical reasons: You also must allow beards if they have a medical reason for not shaving. For example, some black men are more likely to suffer from a condition in which shaving causes skin irritation and bumps.

Even in these cases, you still may be able to set a legal no-beard policy if you can show that it's necessary to maintain workplace safety (such as needing to wear a respirator that fits snuggly around the employee’s mouth and nose).

Recent case: When a new CEO took over a California security company, he set a no-beard policy for his security guards (those with religious or medical reasons were exempted). But Joseph, who wore a goatee for years, refused to shave. He was fired and sued, claiming he had a constitutional right to express himself through facial hair.

Result? Joseph had a bad hair day in court as the judge threw out his complaint. 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 that could amount to protected political expression. No such right exists for private-sector workers. (Simpson v. Charles Drew University, 2013)

Final notes: Be consistent in your policy. Also, even if you must allow certain employees to wear beards, your grooming policy can still require that all facial hair be neatly trimmed—something that was obviously not required of Mike Napoli, Jonny Gomes or the rest of the scraggly band of Red Sox brothers.


{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Michelle Hampton May 23, 2016 at 1:18 am

Using Virucidal Anti-Bacterial H-42 Clean Clippers can protect you from Perifolliculitis Keloidalis Occipitalis.


Steve February 15, 2016 at 5:21 pm

OK, it’s a religious thing! It’s my God given right to naturally grow my beard.

I have a short beard. I wear beard covers at work when necessary.


Rebel Beard December 11, 2015 at 7:36 pm

Growing a beard wouldn’t be rebellious if it wasn’t against the rules…


Matt November 21, 2015 at 1:18 pm

Seeing that the Bible is composed of both the Old and New Testament, one could claim religious preferences if they were Christian or Jewish. The real tragedy is that men grow hair on their faces. So, looking like a human is intended to is the offence. We were made in Gods age, so God needs to shave?


MilkAndWookiees October 11, 2015 at 12:22 am

As an employee in the security industry, myself, it strikes me as odd and somewhat [gender] discriminatory that there is no such shaving policy in place for female officers. For that matter, female officers are even allowed to adorn themselves in baubles of purely aesthetic value, such as jewelry, or even make-up. Admittedly, make-up is not always purely aesthetic, and some is actually enhanced with various ingredients that supposedly are good for the skin. There’s certainly no safety reason for requiring officers to be clean shaven; we have no need of masks of any sort. Furthermore, for many men, a beard is a source of confidence; it just makes him feel that much more comfortable with the way he looks. This can only be a positive point, as his confidence will manifest in more apparent ways.


Bill August 18, 2015 at 8:24 am

Companies have every right to dictate grooming policies that best fit their needs. Likewise, workers that are dissatisfied with said policies are more than free to move on from Mickey-Mouse operations that choose to be wholly reliant on the efforts of women and children in favor of companies that are willing to hire real men.


vivek April 20, 2016 at 3:46 pm

hey bill
today i was asked to have a clean shave. so with curiosity i was just surfing wthr it is compulsory to have clean shave. and unfortunately i was very dissatisfied with your answer. as you said a company has full rights to make it compulsory for every 1 for clean shave. so just suppose i am the ceo of your xyz company for whom you are working and i made it compulsory to have clean shave hair(bald) then would you still work for the company???? because as you said company has full rights..


Gonzo November 12, 2014 at 6:20 pm

A couple points –
“Unkempt” is not used correctly here. There is nothing inherently unclean or untidy about a beard. It may not suit your personal preference, but that does not change the definition of the words.

Respirators exist that accommodate beards, so the exemption for safety equipment can be challenged as a reasonable accommodation.


DW October 27, 2014 at 10:58 pm

rebelliousness is a negative? I believe it shows an active creative mind willing to think outside the box….


Brett Page May 2, 2015 at 12:44 am

Which is not what you need when a team needs to work together in times of stress and danger. It’s more like a “look at me, look at me, I’m an individual!” type attitude. As if true individuality is defined by some physical attribute.


Rik Warren November 4, 2013 at 7:50 pm

This is a throw back and has no place in business. No serious professional will groom/ or not, to replicate the Red Sox beardly bro-ness. It is a rule about control and not about results. Should I as a member of the Church of the Unnacient be subjected to rules not applicable to Orthodox Jews /Sikhs, et al? Oh no, you wore a STRIPED SHIRT. You are too tan; Too tall; Too blond; Tell Larry Ellison to shave his goatee! Moronic and totally regimented thinking holds us back. Embrace the individual.


David Phippen November 4, 2013 at 12:05 pm

A well-timed, nicely-written article. I would add that states and/or localities may enact laws that prohibit employment discrimination based on “appearance.” For example, the District of Columbia has one. The precise range of application of such a law is not entirely clear. In D.C., the D.C. Human Rights Act “personal appearance” category has been applied to factors such as cross-dressing, hair styles and beards . From the employer-advocate side, we typically argue legitimate business reasons, purpose and/or necessity (for example, safety) for the factor that is challenged.


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