SEB Mailbag: Atheist Beard edition.

This SEB mailbag entry is a little different from the norm as it comes from an SEB reader who we’ll call Dave and it is not a profane attempt at convincing me Jesus exists and loves me even though I’m a fucking idiot. Instead it asks a simple question about beards and employment. I thought it would be interesting to share it to see what other folks think. My reply will follow the letter itself:

From: Dave
Subject: Atheist Beard?

Hey Les, love the blog.

I have an issue that might deserve some pondering.

I recently got hired on at a job after several months of looking. It’s a call center type job, answering calls but for a funeral service business. On my first day I was informed that I would have to shave my beard to stay employed with them as apparently it’s the standard in the funeral industry (not mentioned at the interview, mind you). I don’t have a full beard like yours, more like Penn Jillette’s. I didn’t really want to part with my chin hairs and began googling which religions I could use as an excuse for it.

Is it silly that I just want to keep my beard, possibly more than a job, just to express my freedom to have one?  Would you shave your face for your company?  Why should God telling someone to have a beard be an acceptable reason?

And my reply was as follows:

Dave,

That’s an interesting predicament and one I’ve not faced in years, if you’ll pardon the pun. It also seems odd that you’d have to shave your beard if you’re working in a call center where you’d be unlikely to deal with clients in any way except over the phone. Still it’s not like EDS didn’t have very specific grooming requirements for many years before finally relaxing them a bit (they used to forbid beards as well).

Is it silly to consider claiming to be a specific religion just to keep your chin hairs? It depends on how you look at it. If you feel that your beard is an important expression of who you are, as many of the folks who don’t shave for religious reasons do, then it’s not particularly silly. Of course it could also be argued that if you’re going to let a few chin hairs stand between you and a decent paying job in these economic times then you’re definitely being silly. Personally I think it’s silly that some companies think they need to control the grooming habits of their employees so strictly, but even then a reasonable argument about “presenting a consistent image” could be made.

If that’s not wishy washy enough for you then let me answer your question on if I would shave my beard for my company. Again the answer is that it would depend. If it were a crappy little job that I didn’t plan at staying at any longer than necessary then the answer is no, though I might trim it up to make them happy. If it were an excellent paying job that I was lucky to be considered for in the first place and the only thing keeping me from being hired was my chin hairs? I’d have severe razor burn from how fast they disappeared. My willingness to comply with stupid or silly requirements goes up in direct relation to how much I’m earning. Pay me enough money and I’d show up in a dress with pink bows in my beard if that’s what you want, but it’d have to be a LOT of money.

It’s not so much that God telling someone to have a beard is an acceptable reason as it is that the laws on religious accommodation that are on the books make getting sued over issues such as beards an expensive exercise so some places figure it’s not worth the hassle of forcing the issue on people who claim it’s part of their religious beliefs. Most of the time it’s a simple matter of economics. Would we end up paying out a lot of money if we fired this person for their beard when they claim it’s mandated by their religious convictions.

That’s one of the great things about being a Computer Support Technician or Systems Administrator or whatever you want to call what I do. We’re expected to be a bit odd and nerdy and beardy so it’s usually not a problem.

Les

What do the rest of you think? Is it worth quitting a job just to keep your right to grow a beard? Would you go as far as to claim to be a member of a religion that mandates beards just to keep both your chin hairs and your job? Was my answer sufficiently wishy washy enough to qualify me as a real life Charlie Brown? Speak up, folks! Let’s hear your thoughts.

22 comments

  1. Well, When I was a camp counselor the director was very close to not rehiring me for a following year because I had green hair and a recently done tattoo. She agreed to hire me if I didn’t re-dye my hair during the summer and being that the tattoo is a peace sign she let that go. I know have another tattoo with a skull on it and I plan on replying this summer. We’ll see how that goes.

  2. Regardless of whether I think it’s silly, dress and grooming codes are a PITA (and a losing battle) to fight against—unless you claim a religious exemption.  But, of course, if you argue that religions or religious beliefs shouldn’t get special accommodation, it’s unethical to turn around and claim such an exemption.

    For the most part, I’d be willing to comply with “reasonable” dress/grooming codes.  If I’m being paid to represent the company, that includes how I look.  So if that meant losing the beard, I might grouse, but I’d do it.  If that meant leaving off my wedding ring, I’d have to ponder that (if it’s because of safety issues, absolutely; if it’s because they want employees to look single, that’s quite a different matter).

  3. I agree with you…that it really depends on the situation.  If the guy is lucky to have the job then shave it off since jobs are hard to find now days.  If this is just a job in the interum then it really depends on how “attached” he is to the beard (no pun intended).

    But for the record as long as it is a clean beard and neatly trimmed I don’t know what the big deal is.  Maybe he can work with them where he doesn’t have to shave it off, but maybe trim it?  And I find it curious that he had it in the interview and they didn’t say anything…maybe he should look in the employee manual or something and find a dress code. 

    I have seen my share of bearded and even long haired people in the funeral industry…so I really don’t know why they would ask him to shave it, especially as you say he is in a call center…

  4. And I find it curious that he had it in the interview and they didn’t say anything…maybe he should look in the employee manual or something and find a dress code.

    It may be they don’t raise it at interviews because they’d rather find the best candidate then bring it up.

    It may also not be a formal employee manual sort of policy.  That doesn’t mean “the boss” can’t enforce it, even if (especially if) it’s a small shop.

  5. It’s the original poster here, I made a decision and just called them and told them I couldn’t do it.
    They also wanted me to get a haircut, for the record. (The girlfriend not wanting me to lose my look might have been a factor as well) I tried just offering to trim it and no dice.

    The job was working the midnight shift answering phones at this funeral business. They are not a parlor as they do not have actual funerals there, but do basically everything else (limos, hearses, picking up bodies) and rent their services to other funeral homes. The boss just had the rule that everyone had to be clean shaven. (In case a client comes through at 3 am?) I would totally understand if it affected my ability to do the job but this seemed baseless.
    I completely agree with Les though, had this job been offering better pay, I’d be a skin-head by now. But I can make the same at a slightly worse job where I get to keep my look.

  6. It’s all about priorities. What do you value more, a roof over your head and food to eat, or regrowable facial hair?

    That said, I like beards on men and I support Dave and his love for his beard.

    If Dave lives in a cold climate, he could claim he needs it to keep his face warm? Ok, maybe not.

    Cry sexism? As a female, I don’t know what it is like to have to shave my face every day (or any day, really), but it doesn’t look like it feels too good. Men’s facial hair is so much more coarse than my leg hair, and I don’t even like to shave my legs. I do so grudgingly every now and then. I want to slug the bitch who started the whole trend.

    Would an employer require a woman to shave her legs? Unless she’s a model, dancer, or a Hooters-type waitress, wouldn’t it be sexist to require smooth legs?

    And what if the beard is used to hide some physical deformity or scarring? Or to enhance a weak chin? Isn’t it cruel to require a man to shave in such a situation?

  7. Ha!  Love the ad that just came up in the sidebar…  Free Laser Hair Removal! – American Laser Centers!  LOL!

  8. I’ve had a similar problem.

    When i was applying for my first job out of uni I was offered one on the condition that i cut my hair short. I had a pony tail at that point I had been growing for 3 years and had only just been able to start tying it all back in one go, so I politely turned down the job.

    I can see part of his arguement since i would ocassionaly be sent to do face to face work with customers and he thought the pony tail wasn’t very professional. Granted the fact he showed up to do my interview in tatty jeans and a stained t-shirt didnt help me see his point of view.

    But had I known I wouldn’t get a job for about a year and a half after that I would have definately taken the hit.

    I suppose the upside is that im now in a job that’s quite happy to let me look however i want unless im formally meeting someone, at which point i have to wear a shirt at least.

  9. Canis, you mean to tell me they let you walk around the office without a shirt on? Talk about a casual dress code!

  10. Never!

    I would never accept a job with such requirements. I was born with a facial deformity and my beard helps conceal it. Add to that the receding hairline and then it also becomes an aesthetic issue of too much flesh on the face with no contrast.

    The last time I ran into this situation was over 20 years ago, I had spent 2 hours on the bus getting to a job interview with a security firm, the advertisement mentioned nothing about being clean shaven as a job requirement. At the end of that interview, they sprung the beard issue on me. At which point it was pretty much “Thank you for wasting my time and yours, jerk.” Any company that insists you shave your beard are engaging in a power struggle to dominate your life. An attempt to castrate your masculinity by making you look as boyish as possible.

    I decided way back then that any job that was more focused on my looks vs. my performance was a dead-end for me. I will never be Mr. GQ pretty boy.

    As for the letter in question, they hired him with a beard, and then someone on the job site tells him he has to shave it? Sounds fishy to me, like maybe it’s a supervisor attempting to exercise their dominance over their new underling. Other wise, why wasn’t it brought up in the interview?
    Did he get a formal letter offering him employment? If so, does that letter mention anything about a beard?

    And what is up with this whole dominating employees in the work place mentality anyway? You provide services, your employer pays you the agreed upon price for those services. Anything else is just dominance bull-shit.

    Boy, I’m so glad I’m retired now. As I get older I become less tolerate of such bullshit.

  11. The closest I ever got to this sort of dress code decision was when Margie asked me to cut off my pony tail for the wedding.  She had the silly idea (correct, of course, but still silly) that it would make the pictures look more dated.

    Since it was for her (and I didn’t take it as an attempt to “castrate my masculinity”), I did it.  And since I was already getting thin enough on teh top to make me worry that I might be one of those folks trying to make up with hair length for hair thickness, I never grew it back

    It does let me talk intelligently to my daughter about long hair care, though.  grin

  12. I’ve always wanted to grow a pony tail, but my hair will only grow to a certain length before it gets depressed and leaps from my head. I’ve never had hair long enough to make a tail out of.

  13. Yeah, I used to have long “Jesus” hair, but it got so thin and snarled that I got a hair cut back in 1995-1996, and not long after that I bought some clippers and have been buzzing my head ever since.

  14. When I had long hair, not cutting it was a big deal.  It took me two years of wearing a cap for it to get long enough to pull it all back into a ponytail, so I wasn’t about to waste it.

    Back in college when I had a mullet going, I worked briefly as a valet.  I just pulled into a ponytail that I tucked into the polo shirt I had to wear.  My supervisor noticed one day and said as long as I kept it tucked in it wouldn’t be a problem.

  15. I’m self-employed

    I’ve heard that beardie bloke in the office has been blogging about you.

    I’ve always wanted to grow a pony tail

    You know what you find if you lift a pony’s tail up though…

    My stepson used to have long hair, but working in a cinema eventually cured him.  He was sick of getting pop-corn (and I believe once, vomit) in his hair.

    My Eldest (12 years old) had collar length hair,  but has just had it cut to something nice, raising over £60 (?$85) for charity. (If sponsored to over £100 he was going for the ‘Number 1’ aka Buzz Cut.)

  16. I had this happen to me after I had been at my job for quite a few years already. I had long curly “Slash” like hair since my early teens. Just after High School I got a job at a car rental company and had been there for years before they told me I had to conform to their new corporate image standards and hair length for men was just an inch above the collar and I would have to cut it. I looked at the new guidelines and found it said nothing about hair color, so I told my boss that I would cut my hair but I would also dye it bright blue and there was nothing they could do because there was no guidelines in there little book

        I didn’t have to cut my hair and stayed there almost 5 more years until I moved to another state.

  17. i have been pondering the same question about beards and being hired and such if an employer wants to hire someone to do a job in which i have to shave my face and cut my hair is an issue i think … and this is just me , that the wages should go up for said employee , because i had a beard before i got hired , and it is not because i am making up for my missed child hood or any such thing it is part of who i am , and for someone to try to change that and for me to say that it is okay for them to say such things and demand such things isnt working, i guess what im saying slash asking is wouldnt that make more sense i go in with my beard to an interview to let them know that i am who i am, why lie to the potential employer about your lifestyle? if thats how you start then it isnt going to last i know i have done it. it seems to me that the one fellow had it right it is a type of discimination .. at least thats what i think. though im not trying to open a can of worms how come it is that every man gets told that beards are not allowed and who made this rule?? if your working with food i can see it being a problem but thats why they made a thing called a snood for bearded employees in food related employment. so what im thinking is, that even if i could work miracles and bring in more money than a potential employer can get regularly then my beard has to be a factor … no thanks i am me thats who i am and i am not 16 anymore most of us are way over the age of daddy telling us to cut our hair we vote we drink we occasionally say a few wordy dirds and such but if someone ask me to start shaving then the price per hour or what ever is going up or we can part ways no hard feelings … sorry to ramble on and rant about it but , it is the way i think , i know everyone doesnt think like me … thank the Lord but thats my point of view, be it askew or not

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