Yesterday the papers reported that Daybreak presenters have been banned from sporting facial hair, on the basis that it acts as a barrier preventing trust between the viewer and the presenter.
A blanket rule like this might be ok for Daybreak's particular demographic of presenters (one of whom is a woman), but if this rule is adopted somewhere with a more diverse mix of staff, a 5 o'clock shadow could be the least of problems.
Employers might reasonably cultivate a certain corporate image, identity, target a certain market and to implement policies which enable it to achieve that; requiring staff to look, act or not act in a certain way, for example, a gym might be keen for its staff to project a physically fit image. Providing what is being asked does not fundamentally change the terms of your employment contract, it is likely to be ok. But if a policy adversely impacts on you, because of a protected characteristic (age, sex, race, religion, disability...) then this may be discriminatory.
And when it comes to Religious / Non Religious Belief Discrimination, within Employment Law the imposition of a beard-ban could be a rather hairy subject… "Do not cut the hair at the sides of your head or clip off the edges of your beard" reads Leviticus 19:27; the basis for which many religious Jews adopt facial hair. In many religious communities, including Muslims, Sikhs and Amish farmers, men wear beards (and or do not cut their body and facial hair) as a requirement of their religion or simply as a part of their religious garb, with different requirements and versions in different religions, sects and tribes.
After all, some might compare this to (perhaps depending on who you are talking to) Mrs Eweida, British Airway’s staff, who won her claim against BA’s uniform policy which sought to ban her wearing a small crucifix necklace, and Bushra Noah a young Muslim woman who was refused a job at a London hair salon on the basis that she wore a jilbab. In both these cases, the employer was found to have discriminated, despite the business reasons that they had for disallowing these practices.
Not all cases where a blanket policy applied to all will be discriminatory, some will still be permissible where there is a very good reason for the policy or something is necessary, for example, to meet health and safety obligations. If your employer's policies are impacting on you in a negative way, think about why that is the case, what the policy is for and get in touch with your trade union rep or lawyer for advice on your options. There are various ways in which you can challenge your Employer's requirements if they are restricting your religious or cultural freedoms or affect you because of your sexual orientation, race, nationality, age, sex or disability.
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