Toronto man says employer discriminated against him because of beard
UPS requires employees to be clean shaven unless they get a religious accommodation.
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Can an employer ban your beard, or is the right to unfettered facial hair protected by law?
Allan Stokell says he feels his human rights were violated when courier giant UPS told him he’d have to shave his whiskers if he wanted to work for them.
“Although not as serious as some (violations), I don’t believe large multi-national corporations should be able to get away with this,” Stokell, who is 68, said. “I’ve had a beard since I was 18 and I identify as being a bearded person.
“It’s something I live by, I’m very proud of my beard and I’m not really interested in shaving it off.”
Stokell, a retired City of Toronto worker, applied to UPS for a seasonal job as a walker — an employee who helps UPS drivers pick up and deliver packages. UPS replied to him with a questionnaire asking, among other things, whether he accepts the company’s “strict appearance guidelines” requiring employees “to be clean shaven and hide visible piercings and tattoos.”
Stokell responded that he has a short, well-trimmed beard and short hair. In a brief email exchange, a UPS representative told Stokell that “unless one is keeping their facial hair for religious or medical reasons, all employees need to be clean shaven at UPS as part of UPS’s appearance policy.”
Employees seeking beard accommodation on religious or medical grounds must supply “proper documentation,” Stokell was told.
UPS Canada told the Star that it “is confident in the legality of its employment practices.”
“UPS does have appearance and grooming guidelines in place,” company spokesperson Nirali Raval said in an email. “Through the interview process the appearance and grooming policy is explained to all applicants.”
Raval said the specific appearance policies “are internal policies and are not shared externally.”
Stokell is not the first Ontarian to chafe under a company’s clean-shaven mandate.
In 2014, nickel smelting worker Christopher Browne filed a human rights complaint against his employer, Sudbury Integrated Nickel Operations, after he was ordered to shave his goatee. In January 2016, the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario ruled against Browne, noting that his goatee was not affiliated with religious beliefs and could not be defended as an expression of gender.
“Wearing a beard or other facial hair is a matter of style or grooming, and is not a matter of sufficient social significance to warrant protection under human rights legislation … absent any connection to a matter of religious observance,” said adjudicator Mark Hart, in his decision.
Janina Fogels, senior counsel at Ontario’s Human Rights Legal Support Centre, said Hart’s ruling set the precedent for beard-related human rights complaints in the province.
“The adjudicator is making the point there that the person who wants to wear the beard has to establish that wearing facial hair is protected by the (Ontario Human Rights) Code,” said Fogels, who advises and represents complainants on their human rights claims.
That, she added, would require proving that the beard is linked to one of the areas protected by the Code, such as race, creed, skin colour, age, sex, disability.
In 2015, the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed a lawsuit against UPS, alleging the company discriminated against current and prospective staff whose religious beliefs required them to wear beards or long hair. The suit is yet to be resolved.
Stokell said he considers his beard to be a kind of creed.
“My son has a beard, my father and grandfather all had beards… It’s something you live by.”
The Ontario Human Rights Commission’s guidelines say creed can include non-religious belief systems that “substantially influence a person’s identity, worldview and way of life.” To determine whether an element of one’s lifestyle is a creed, the Commission considers whether it “addresses ultimate questions of human existence,” and has some connection to an organization or community that professes to have shared beliefs.
Stokell has not officially been turned down for the job at UPS, but has not heard anything further from the company. He says he is no longer interested in working for UPS.
“Work has got to be a welcoming environment,” Stokell said. “If I’m going to force them to employ me because of a labour standard it’s not going to be a good working relationship.”
He still hopes UPS softens its stance on beards for future applicants, he said.
“They (should) change the policy so that other people don’t have to go through this.”