Men with beards are often told when attending job interviews or attending their workplace that they need to be clean shaven (i.e. that their beard needs to go) but does such a request amount to discrimination?
According to the Australian Human Rights Commission, Commonwealth laws and the state/territory laws generally overlap and prohibit the same type of discrimination. As both state/territory laws and Commonwealth laws apply, an employer must comply with both. However, these laws generally only protect certain attributes (for example sexuality, race, religion/culture, political opinion, disability, national extraction etc) and employers are permitted to have rules about how their employees look and dress on the proviso that those rules don’t conflict with the law.
In that regard, if an employee has a beard because of religious/cultural beliefs then the employer can face discrimination accusations when asking a bearded employee to be clean shaven.
Religion is one of the most prevalent forms of culture which impacts a male’s choice of beard. For many there are strict rules and their facial hair extends beyond the realms of fashion, style or hipster trends. Some examples of religious/cultural hair grooming practices that would be protected by Australian discrimination laws include the Sikh beard, the Jewish beard or Peyes (sidelocks).
However, if the employees choice to have a beard isn’t on grounds of religious/cultural reasons then there is likely to be no cause of action or protection under Australian discrimination laws, as those laws do not protect “personal preferences” (i.e. a person’s personal preference to have a beard) and in such circumstances, an employer will not be in breach of the law by asking their employees to be clean shaven.
If you have any further questions about the above information (either as an employer or as an employee) please contact our offices and/or the Australian Human Rights Commission.