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Is a no-beard rule at work a form of racial discrimination?

Workplace racism is sometimes obvious. There are companies that seem to make hiring and promotion decisions based on race because they only employ people of one race or refused to promote people from certain backgrounds.

However, overt racism could easily lead to discrimination lawsuits, so companies have long tried to make their discrimination more subtle. Enacting rules that don’t talk about race but that affect people based on their race is one way for a business to discriminate against large portions of the population.

Despite both federal and California state laws aimed at curtailing racism, it is still a frequent concern in the workplace. California has addressed how hairstyle rules can be racist. Workers also need to ask whether facial hair grooming rules in the dress code might be racist.

No-beard rules are only appropriate when necessary

The federal government provides no-beard workplace rules as an example of subtle workplace racism. Men of African-American heritage are more likely than people of other racial backgrounds to develop extreme skin irritation and visible bumps from daily facial shaving. This means that a worker will either have to compromise their personal appearance and endure unpleasant irritation to their facial skin or risk disciplinary action at the company where they work.

Requiring that workers remove their beards to promote a clean appearance is a form of discrimination unless the facial hair removal factors into health and safety requirements. Those working with certain kinds of machinery, for example, could find that a beard puts them at risk of getting hurt by the equipment, much like long hair might. Those working in food production or sterile environment may need to remove or cover facial hair for hygiene purposes.

Employers should recognize that both racial and religious factors may influence someone’s decision about how they groom their body hair. A no-beard rule not only puts African American men at a disadvantage but could also prohibit members of certain religions, like Sikhism, from working at that business.

How do you push back against subtle racism?

When your employer still has and enforces a questionable or racist policy, you may be able to challenge that policy internally. Partnering with someone who understands discrimination law will improve your chances of successfully convincing your employer to change their practices.

If the company did not respond to your challenges or take disciplinary action against you for not conforming to their no-beard rule, you may need to consider legal action. Filing a civil lawsuit can be a powerful way to fight back against many different kinds of workplace discrimination.

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