Having the right appearance can be essential to gaining employment, especially when a business has a certain identity to protect and maintain. Businesses often hire employees partly based on their first impression of the applicant, which typically includes the applicant's appearance. However, the question that sometimes arises is whether or not an employer can require an employee to shave or maintain a certain type of haircut to remain employed.
One instance in which the employer cannot ask you to shave your beard is if you have a health condition that prevents you from doing so. In particular, pseudofolliculitis barbae is one condition that is typically common among African-American men and results in pain and discomfort when shaving. This condition would qualify as a medical exemption to the employer's personal appearance code.
In some places throughout the country, it is feasible that your employer can require you to shave if you work in a field where the public health is a concern. For instance, if you work as a line cook or chef, you may have to shave your beard if your employer requires you to do so. This depends on the requirements of your public health department, and these can vary from city to city and from state to state. If, however, this is not seen as a potential threat to public health, you may not have to shave.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 requires that employers make reasonable accommodation to employees who have religious beliefs that may conflict with employer policy. This makes it illegal for an employer to discriminate against an employee on the basis of his sincerely held religious beliefs that he should not shave or should wear facial hair. The employer cannot simply ignore the request of the employee to keep facial hair. So long as the request does not cause undue hardship to the employer, the employer must be willing to accommodate the request.
In cases where the employer is not clearly discriminating against an employee, it is permissible to ask an employee to shave if the employer has a vested interest in doing so. For instance, if the employer has a certain image to maintain and your beard threatens that identity, it is within his rights to ask you to shave. For instance, a Wall Street brokerage firm or a financial services company may consider facial hair as inappropriate because it does not conform to accepted norms for formal business wear.