Is facial hair okay in a professional setting? Men across the globe often ask themselves this question as they begin their search for employment or internships in professional offices. Some say it solely depends upon the culture of one’s employer. Others say facial hair is an extension of one’s self, and thus depends on the individual’s beliefs. Facial hair can sometimes fall within a grey area for appropriateness. There are various styles that men can choose, from the tiniest soul patch to a full-face beard. Despite facial hair being a grey area for many organizations there are some organizations that are strongly against it. A number of organizations in the corporate world on a global scale do not accept beards. New York Yankees management refuses players with hair below the upper lip. In many police departments, beards are not allowed due to the “unprofessional” look the facial hair gives. Organizations, therefore, have to be careful in making sure they do not discriminate if they have facial hair policies.
Why the Debate?
Across America, organizations are facing court cases over employees’ facial hair and general appearance. Many are not aware of what restrictions organizations can and cannot have in policy regarding facial hair. Take these cases, for example:
• In 2001 an African American firefighter was fired when he did not comply with the newly issued policy requiring all firefighters to have clean shaven faces.
• Recently, a Floridian Sikh opened a lawsuit against Disney, stating that they fired him over his religious dress, for not having the “Disney Look.”
• In 2007 the Houston Police Department was under fire from a lawsuit stating that its appearance policy discriminated against men with pseudofolliculitis barbae, a skin condition that reacts negatively to shaving.
Each of these examples, of course, had different circumstances. Due to differing state laws and organizational policies, there were different outcomes. So how can an organization be fair when creating and upholding a policy in reference to facial hair and the general appearance of the employee? How can an organization protect itself from an unnecessary lawsuit? For starters, an organization can create a well written, clearly communicated policy on appearance that removes any gray areas. Those who decide to join the organization must follow the policy, as they should clearly understand this part of the employment arrangement. Possibly having new employees sign an acknowledgement form can demonstrate that they are aware of such a policy. If safety is an issue, use this new appearance policy to help guide members to appropriate attire for safety reasons.
Secondly, an organization must continually be consistent in enforcing the policy. Some lawsuits begin as a result of negligence on the organization’s part for not reinforcing its own policy. If a policy is in place, it is there for a reason. A common exception to the rule, however, is religious reasons. Religions such as Sikhism and Hasidic Judaism do not believe in the cutting of their hair from a scriptural standpoint. Since it is against the law to discriminate against a person because of his / her religious beliefs, a policy that would undermine or impair a person’s religious spirituality could be used against an organization in a lawsuit. An Online Employment Law Guide points out that, “The essential consideration is why. Why were you fired or not hired? Was it because of your age or race or gender, etc.? Or was it because the boss just didn't like you, or wanted to hire his brother, etc.? What matters is the motive.”
If facial hair is seen as acceptable in an organization, what are some guidelines that can be used in deciding on and maintaining an appropriate facial hair style?
• Keeping the facial hair neatly trimmed and clean is essential. Good grooming is essential for everyone – and facial hair maintenance is no exception.
• Letting facial hair grow to a maximum of 2 inches in length allows flexibility to the wearer, but prevents distractions or other safety hazards.
• Waiting until the employee is established in his field of work. Once an employee’s fellow counterparts know the employee as an individual, there is a less likely chance that newly sported facial hair will be perceived negatively. For those who are in the midst of their job search, research on the specific organization offering employment is essential. Examine the organization’s website, check the careers page, and see what type of images, if any, appear.
Doing research helps in decision making. Growing facial hair is a personal decision, but also one that may affect an employee’s professional life. As a potential employee, do the research before getting into an unpleasant employment situation. As an employer, determine if such policies are essential, especially in today’s economy where talent is scarce. Most importantly, make sure your decisions in regards to facial hair make you happy, both personally and professionally, as well as meet your employer’s needs.