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:
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:
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.
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.