Beards in the workplace are a topic of much debate, especially as of late. Whereas once the gold standard was that employees in most career fields had to remain completely-shaven, we’ve now entered an era where beards are such a common piece of a gentleman’s individual style that not all employers enforce strict no-beard policies, with some workplaces actually supporting the choice to grow your face fuzz. Unfortunately Christopher Browne doesn’t work in such a place.
An employee in the smelter division of Sudbury Integrated Nickel Operations, Brown filed an application in April 2014 alleging that “strict enforcement of the company’s clean-shaven policy amounted to discrimination on the basis of gender expression,” according to a report by The Sudbury Star.
After nearly two years, a decision was made last month with it being ruled that “the ground of gender identity and gender expression, added to the Ontario Human Rights Code in 2012 to address a perceived gap in protection for transgender or other non-gender-conforming persons, does not extend to protect the ability of a man to grow a beard.”
Sorry, Chris. Although I give you credit for taking an outside the box approach to protect your facial hair.
However upon further explanation, the ruling against Browne starts to make more sense.
According to the Sudbury Star’s report, all employees that work in the smelting plant – Browne included – must be fitted for an approved respirator mask, which is required to be worn while carrying out certain tasks to “protect from potential exposure to sulphur dioxide, as well as fumes and dust carrying metals and silica.”
Much like firefighters and the like, respirator masks are a major part of health and safety on the job, and to form a secure seal against the skin and avoid any chemicals or toxins leaking in, the wearer cannot have any hair that blocks the edges of the mask from sitting snugly against the skin.
In Browne’s case, the Sudbury Integrated Nickel Operations does allow respirator-wearing employees to have trimmed mustaches, soul-patches, and goatees. But Browne didn’t find these options appealing. He testified that he had grown a mustache and goatee in October 2012 in support of Movember movement, saying he was compelled to support the cause because of the impact of prostate cancer on his relatives. But he let his goatee grow down along his jawline, which violated facial hair regulations, and when asked why he did not just sport a mustache in honor of Movember, he responded that “he had tried wearing one in college, but it did not look right.”
I hear ya. Not all of us can rock cool mustaches like Tom Selleck or Sam Elliott. Some of us just look like Michael Cera.
Browne himself admitted that he did not ask for special consideration on the basis of religious expression or other grounds, but went on to say that while his facial hair may have violated dress code, concerns could be addressed by “performing a fit test on an individual basis, to ensure the mask fits properly.”
While the company’s facial hair policy makes logical sense for the safety of its workers, there’s also something oddly pleasing about a dude going to bat for his facial hair, and for that Mr. Browne, we salute you.
But if you want to make sure your life-saving respirator fits properly, we’d salute that too.