Many Americans live paycheck to paycheck. As a result, being out of work due to illness or layoffs can have devastating effects. This cold and flu season, workers are worried about getting sick. Yet, some have a bigger concern. Men with facial hair could face suspension for not shaving.
Some jobs require workers to wear N95 respirator masks on the job. And according to authorities, the masks are not effective when worn over full beards. Consequently, many employers have policies that require employees to shave. Those who do not comply with company mandates could be suspended for not shaving.
You may wonder who these rules apply to or what workers can do about it. Here is what employees should know.
Can Employers Legally Require Workers to Shave?
Men grow beards for many reasons. In fact, when they are required to shave, it can feel like a violation of personal freedom.
From a legal perspective, experts agree that employers can require men to shave as long as it does not:
- violate civil rights, or
- cause hardship
To explain, here are a few examples. If an employer required a man to shave a beard that was grown for religious observance, it would be considered a violation of the right to practice religion. If an employer required a man to shave even though it aggravated or caused a medical condition, that would be an instance of a policy that caused undue hardship.
For jobs that do not require N95 masks, it may be unlawful to have policies prohibiting facial hair. Furthermore, according to the U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission (EEOC), a policy prohibiting beards on the job can be racially discriminatory. A "no-beard" policy may be unlawful if it is not job-related and harms the employment of African-American men (who have a predisposition to a skin condition that causes severe shaving bumps). You can read the EEOC's statement here.
Workers who think their job is doing something wrong should talk to their boss about their concerns.
Who Can Be Suspended for Not Shaving?
Employers considered first-responders, like emergency medical response and law enforcement, might require N95 respirator masks for worker protection. In other words, jobs that regulate N95 masks and can suspend workers who do not shave include:
Men in these jobs may find themselves in tough situations if they can't shave.
A lot of men suffer from skin conditions caused by shaving. In particular, approximately 60% of African-American men suffer from a medical condition called Pseudofolliculitis Barbae, known as razor bumps. You can read more on Psueodfolliculitis Barbae here. In most black men, shaving causes swollen, painful bumps that can scar their faces over time. A 100% effective treatment is to let the beard grow.
How Can Workers Prevent Suspensions?
Generally, employers allow exemptions. A medical excuse from a doctor can prevent suspensions in many cases. A doctor can confirm that a worker cannot shave due to a medical condition, like razor bumps. Then the employee would be allowed to grow their beard and avoid suspension.
A recent story made national news from the police department in Maryland's Prince George County. Due to an N95 mask requirement, the police department changed its policy to require clean-shaven faces. In this case, men with razor bumps were allowed medical exemptions. The police chief said in a statement that his department encouraged officers to come forward with medical waivers. You can read more about the officers in Maryland here.
In short, shaving waivers are encouraged for workers who cannot shave due to medical conditions. In some cases, employees can avoid suspensions or other disciplinary action when showing that shaving causes undue hardship. While employers can legally require shaving, it should not violate civil rights or aggravate a medical condition.
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Disclaimer: The contents of this article are for informational purposes only and do not constitute medical advice. The information, graphics, and images on this site are not intended to substitute diagnosis or treatment by a medical professional. Always seek the advice of a licensed physician for any questions you may have regarding a specific condition.