Sometimes it is easy to tell when a workplace is discriminating against employees of color or against people of particular ethnicities. However, a lot of discrimination can be much more subtle. Sometimes discrimination happens when a workplace burdens minority workers through a certain workplace edict like a grooming policy.
Many grooming policies are appropriate for a workplace. Employers institute them to help project a certain image for their companies. However, as the EEOC explains, workplaces may run afoul of discrimination laws when grooming policies negatively affect certain racial groups.
The no-beards example
Some workplaces have a “no-beard” requirement, insisting that employees shave their facial hair as a condition of employment. These employers may believe that beards and goatees do not project the kind of image they want for their companies. They may even insist that everyone, regardless of race, should abide by this policy.
The problem is that a no-beard policy may be discriminatory even if the employer does not intend it. The EEOC points out that African-American men have a tendency to develop severe shaving bumps, which makes shaving a beard on a regular basis impractical and burdensome. Also, some religions encourage or require their practitioners to grow a beard, which can make a no-beards policy discriminatory on religious grounds as well.
Proving that grooming policies discriminate
If a workplace requires grooming because it is necessary for the operation of the business and is otherwise job related, it might be hard for a court to find fault with it. It may be easier to prove discrimination if the grooming has no impact on the work performance of the employees or how the company operates. Whether a court will accept that a grooming policy is discriminatory will depend on the case involved.