Can an Employer Make Me Shave My Beard? (What the Law Says)

Your facial hair is finally a contender for beard-of-the-month status, but what happens if your employer wants you to give it the axe? Do you have a legal leg (or whisker) to stand on if you want to keep it?

An employer can make you shave your beard to comply with their dress codes and safety measures. If a beard is grown for religious reasons or there is a documented medical reason for one, beard exemptions may be granted, as long as it doesn’t create an undue hardship for the company.

Read on to learn more about employment law and beards in the workplace! 

Is an employer allowed to make you shave your facial hair?

It’s your face, so it’s your choice to grow a beard, right? This line of thinking works when you’re talking about your own time, but your boss has the right to draw a line in the sand on the beard issue during work hours.

Employers are allowed to make you shave your facial hair if it is prohibited by company policy – as long as the requirement doesn’t result in discrimination.

There are numerous reasons why an employer might not embrace the bearded look. Yes, it could simply be a matter of taste, but typically there are health or safety reasons behind the regulation.

Restaurants may ban the beard or place facial hair limits to prevent unwanted strays in the food. Some medical positions may require a clean-shaven face to ensure PPE equipment fits properly. The same goes for firefighters and mask efficiency. Policemen often sport mustaches, but beards are scarce.

Is beard discrimination at work real?

Simply vetoing beards in the workplace is not discrimination. Employers may also prohibit visible tattoos, piercings, or neon-colored hair. 

Beard discrimination at work is real only if the prohibitive policy violates your civil rights or ignores your medical disabilities. In most cases, anti-discrimination laws lean in the employees’ favor as long as granting an exemption doesn’t affect job performance or safety.

If a fireman fails a mask fit test due to his facial hair, he won’t be able to perform his duties. He may be asked to shave or be moved to a role where a mask isn’t required. This is not discrimination. 

Can you refuse to shave your beard for work?

You can refuse to do anything, but should you? Digging your heels in on the beard issue at work won’t always end well. You can refuse to shave off your beard, but your refusal could have major consequences, including unemployment.

You can refuse to shave your beard for work, but the decision may result in termination. Companies expect employees to follow their dress and appearance codes unless there is a valid religious or medical exemption. Employers are within their rights to set their own grooming policies.

In most cases, beards are a preference. Some people love them. Some people hate them. Often a beard’s fate in the workplace is left up to the person drafting company policy. As long as the policy doesn’t legally discriminate, bosses are well within their rights to allow or ban facial hair.

For the record, this should not be considered legal advice. As with all legal questions, the best thing to do is to consult with an attorney.

Jobs that typically have a no-beard policy

While it can be annoying to hear your treasured beard has to go, most employers don’t make the decision just to ruin your day. No-beard decisions are made primarily to ensure workplace health and safety.

Jobs that typically have a no-beard policy include those in the military, firefighters, police, medical, and food service. In these environments, facial hair can put the employee at risk or can contaminate food served to customers.

Let’s look at a few professions where no-beard policies are common:

  • Military personnel
  • Firefighters
  • Policemen
  • Medical personnel
  • Chefs & food service employees

Military personnel

The military has always been synonymous with freshly shaved faces.

Uniformity and professionalism are a part of the job. Beards are only allowed if a grooming waiver is granted.

Currently, the only way to be bearded while on duty is to receive this waiver for religious or medical reasons. 

Firefighters

Walk into a fire station and you are likely to see some impressive hairy lips, but hairy chins are few and far between.

Firefighters wear self-contained breathing apparatuses (SCBA) to protect them from harmful smoke. Beards can interfere with a proper mask seal.

For this reason, beards are frowned upon and often prohibited. Firemen are required to be fit-tested regularly. If facial hair prevents a good mask seal, it has to go.

Policemen

While the upper lip often gets some hairy love in the police world, the chin doesn’t.

Traditionally, police forces have followed in the military’s clean-shaven footsteps. The past two years have seen a loosening of facial hair policy in a few jurisdictions, but as a whole beards are frowned upon while in uniform.

Want to know more about facial hair on the police force? Check out this article.

Medical personnel

Beards are becoming more commonplace in the medical world, but there are still certain jobs where they are the exception.

If the job requires personal protective equipment, facial hair can interfere with a proper fit especially if a respirator mask is required. Just like with firemen, facial hair should not impede a mask seal according to OSHA regulations.

Chefs & food service employees

We’ve all experienced a dreaded hair-in-food moment. If the hair doesn’t belong to us, stomachs turn and food gets sent back.

To prevent embarrassment and bad reviews, many restaurants prohibit beards in food prep areas. Chefs, kitchen staff, and even servers may have to limit facial hair to off-the-clock hours.

Exceptions to a no-beard policy

There are exceptions to almost every rule. Grooming standards can be enforced as long as they don’t violate an employee’s civil rights or prove discriminatory.

Exceptions to a no-beard policy are granted most often for medical or religious reasons. Most employers require documentation before exemptions or waivers are granted. Temporary job roles may relax grooming standards for a short time, and beards may be allowed during fundraisers.

Let’s take a look at each of these in more detail.

Medical reasons not to shave a beard

Certain skin conditions can make shaving a painful process.

Pseudofolliculitis barbae, prevalent among ethnicities with curly hair, produces bumps that are irritated by shaving. They can become inflamed to the point of infection. Employees can submit medical documentation to receive bearded privileges under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Religious reasons not to shave a beard

Growing a beard is an outward show of faith in several religions. Muslims, Sikhs, and even Christians have been granted permission to let beards grow so as not to violate civil rights laws.

In 2021, the first soldier of the Christian faith was granted a grooming waiver due to his adherence to Nazarite law.

Job roles where beards are allowed

Even among the traditional no-beard industries, temporary job roles can relax the grooming standard.

Military members on certain missions may be tasked with blending in with the environment. When serving in the Middle East with a special operations unit, beards might be an asset. Police detectives might grow beards while undercover.

Fundraisers encouraging beards

Several years ago, Movember became a mustache-growing movement to bring awareness to men’s health issues. It has since transformed into No Shave November in many areas.

During the month, many companies encourage men to ditch their razors for charity throughout the month of November.

How to get around shaving for work?

If you find yourself working where a no-beard policy is already in place, is there any workaround? Can you get away with abandoning the razor every morning? Maybe not immediately, but it is possible to inspire change.

If your workplace has a strict no-beard policy in place, you might be able to get around shaving by offering to wear a beard cover. This immediate strategy may not work everywhere. A gradual policy change may be possible after talking with management or organizing a petition.

Wear a beard cover

If you are dead set on keeping your beard, offer to wear a beard cover.

This tactic may work especially in industries like food service. 

Talk to management

It never hurts to have a conversation. If you have a beard, make sure it is neatly groomed before walking into this meeting.

Be prepared to show statistics and trends that support beards in similar industries. Have an open mind, listen to their point of view, and be professional. You may bring up points they haven’t considered.

Organize a petition

If other employees in your company support a change in beard policy, start a petition.

This is easy to do with sites like change.org. Other employees have been successful in getting beard test programs and full-out changes in policy by being proactive and showing employers that a grooming change is wanted and needed.