The rate of men growing their beards is increasing all thanks to the current hipster trend. Beards may be non-controversial in some working environment and not permitted in others. When confronted with a growing trend towards facial hair, employers requiring a clean shaven look may be challenged as to the reasonableness (or otherwise) of their appearance requirements for employees.
Employers should consider whether they are prepared to make allowances for facial hair in their appearance policies. Factors to consider would include branding and image, hygiene requirements and safety issues.
On 14 May 2015, a matter involving a ban on beards by the Victorian Police was dealt with by the Victorian Supreme Court. The Court upheld VCAT’s earlier finding that the ban on beards was not discriminatory. The ban was introduced by the Police in 2012, with officers allowed to have neat moustaches but no beards and no other facial hair. The officers claimed the ban made them less attractive and that there were religious reasons for their facial hair. These arguments failed in VCAT at first instance and VCAT’s decision was upheld by the Supreme Court. In Martin Cochrane v Ambrose Haulage Pty Ltd  FWC 838 Mr Cochrane’s employment was terminated, with one of the reasons for the termination being that he came to work with a half shaved beard which showed a disregard for his employer. Commissioner Simpson observed that Mr Cochrane had not been clearly directed by his manager not to wear his facial hair in that “style”. Whilst Mr Cochrane was aware that his employer did not like it, as he had not been specifically directed not to do it – there was no valid reason for termination and Mr Cochrane was unfairly dismissed.
In James Felton v BHP Billiton Pty Ltd  FWC 1838, Mr Felton’s employment was terminated because he repeatedly refused to follow a direction to present to work clean-shaven in order to allow a respirator fit test to be completed. This direction was given in the context of a clean shaven policy. In this case, Commissioner Hampton found it was reasonable for BHP Billiton to direct employees at an underground mine to be clean shaven to ensure their respirators protected them from workplace hazards.
After considering the relevant factors to the workplace, employers should set their standards for facial hair clearly and enforce them fairly. The issue of grooming, particularly around facial hair is prickly and regardless of the policy or standard, employers should always be willing to talk to employees about their policies, especially where there may be religious or medical reasons for the beard.
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