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Can I Make My Employees Get a Haircut?

QUESTION

Can I require the male employees I manage to cut their hair? I’m not talking buzz cut—just something below shoulder length?

ANSWER

Probably not.

EXPLANATION

Personal grooming policies are allowed only in very limited situations. Unfortunately, I don’t know enough about your situation to determine whether you could implement such a policy at your own organization—although the fact that it applies only to men raises a very red flag. What I can do is present a few scenarios to help you and the other HR directors reading this determine whether it would be okay to make their employees cut their hair:

MANDATORY HAIRCUT POLICIES

MIGHT BE OK IF:

NOT OK IF:

  • The policy is in writing and clearly explained
  • The policy is necessary for health or safety, e.g., risk employee might get hair caught in a machine
  • The policy applies equally to women who face the same hazard
  • You can’t accomplish the same purpose in a less intrusive way, e.g., by simply having employees restrain their hair
  • Wearing their hair long isn’t part of employees’ religious practice or ethnicity
  • The policy doesn’t violate employees’ rights under the collective agreement
  • The policy is consistently enforced
  • The policy isn’t in writing
  • The policy is vague and ambiguous
  • The policy is based on taste, aesthetics or subjective notions about how people, i.e., men should wear their hair
  • You claim but can’t prove the policy is based on health or safety
  • The policy is based on health or safety but it applies only to men
  • Forcing employees to cut their hair intrude upon their religious beliefs or ethnicity
  • The policy is inconsistent with the terms of the collective agreement
  • The policy isn’t consistently enforced

The 7 Conditions Under Which Personal Grooming Policies Are Allowed

In sum, employers are allowed to impose a personal grooming or dress code only if:

  1. It serves a legitimate and important purpose;
  2. The policy is necessary to accomplish the purpose;
  3. There are no less restrictive alternatives that will accomplish the purpose;
  4. The policy is clear and unambiguous about what’s allowed;
  5. The policy doesn’t violate the collective agreement (in a union workplace);
  6. The policy doesn’t discriminate on the basis of gender, race, religion, etc.; and
  7. You enforce the policy consistently.

For More Help with Dress Codes & Personal Appearance Policies

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