A construction firm named The Mears Group (‘Mears’) has created a policy banning its workers from having beards on the grounds of health and safety, without heed to potential claims of sex or religious discrimination.
Mears (a construction firm) said that this policy was introduced so that workers can ‘wear dust masks effectively’. Workers must be clean shaven, or at least their beard not ‘so long that it hinders the correct fitting of dust masks’.
This decision has been criticised by Unite. They said: “The arrogance of Mears is hair-raising. This is a highly delicate issue, which has huge cultural, religious and personal issues and where sensitivity should be the watchword. Instead, members have been handed a decree from on high.
“This is clearly a case of Mears going for the cheapest option and amounts to penny-pinching stupidity. Other forms of masks are available and these should be offered to existing workers. Unite will always put the safety of our members first. Creating hhuge resentment and anger among your workforce is never the way forward. Mears needs to withdraw this decree and enter into a proper consultation with Unite and the workforce.”
Unite have correctly alluded to the risk of indirect discrimination on the part of Mears. This is because for some religions, beards have a particular significance. Mears have said that they will make exceptions to this policy for medical or religious reasons, but this may not completely mitigate the risk of indirect religious discrimination since employees may feel embarrassed to ask for dispensation. We believe that there is a high risk of this policy amounting to a policy, criterion or practice which indirectly discriminates against a group of people on the grounds religion or belief.
Santa Claus, perhaps the most famous bearded worker, would not accept such a policy, we are sure.
Businesses of all types must be mindful of indirect discrimination when creating any policy/procedure which applies to all workers or a group of them. This is because indirect discrimination is typically less obvious and so is easily committed without a thorough analysis of any proposed policy/procedure.
Image used courtesy of Bailiwick Studios