To Beard Or Not To Beard
Beards have been the question in employment law lately, and it’s not good news for those hipsters who wish to express their inner Viking and let their facial hair grow free.
The Victorian Supreme Court recently ruled Victorian police officers need to shave off beards, goatees, drooping moustaches and mutton chops, or leave the force. A senior constable had challenged a 2012 order that banned police officers from having long hair, goatees or beards on the grounds it was discrimination in the workplace.
The court ruled in favour of the Police Commissioner, saying he had the power to override anti-discrimination law and could determine grooming standards for police officers.
One would hope there’s an exemption for undercover cops. Try infiltrating a bikie gang in short back and sides. The Commissioner needs to be wary about applying the no-beard rule to Muslim or Sikh police officers who have religious reasons for being bearded. He could be in breach of the Equal Opportunity Act.
The Fair Work Commission recently upheld a decision by BHP to pressure a mining truck driver to leave after he repeatedly refused directions to shave off his beard. BHP said it was a safety issue as all employees need to be able to wear face mask respirators. The Commission agreed with BHP, saying the company policy was clear and the worker was given the choice to shave or leave.
Employment law specialist Nathan Luke of Stacks Law Firm said another recent case demonstrates employers need to be clear on their policy regarding beards and staff appearance.
A delivery driver sacked for turning up with a half-shaved beard was recently awarded $6,000 by the Fair Work Commission for unfair dismissal. The Commission ruled the employer had not stipulated the standard of appearance required and had failed to provide the worker with a reason for his dismissal.
“Employers need to be clear and spell out to employees the standard of appearance and conduct that is expected from them, and then they need to give them a chance to change their behaviour or pick up their standard of appearance,” Mr Luke said.
“If employers are not sure of what to do they should seek legal advice from an employment law specialist. It can be important to know what the legal position is if an employee has refused to comply with a reasonable direction.
“Equally, employees who feel they have been unfairly treated should find out their legal position from a specialist in the field.”
Mr Luke said it was important to act quickly as the legal risk can escalate.