Hair Today–Gone Tomorrow???

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about:

Today July 3rd at 18:30, I was called to my HR managers office along with my immediate dept. manager. I was informed that customers had complained about my appearance and were afraid to approach me. I am a 59 year old male with shoulder length white hair and short beard. I bathe and wash my hair twice every evening or morning. My hair is well kept, fluffy and shinny. I was asked how we might rectify this situation. I responded that I will not cut my hair or shave so perhaps management might suggest something. They couldn’t of coarse. What do you suggest?

Signed, Hair Today–Gone Tomorrow

Dear¬†Hair Today–Gone Tomorrow:

You work for this company. You work with this company’s customers. You reflect an image for this company. That image disturbs THEIR customers. They want to avoid you. Therefore you have a choice. If you want to work for this company and their customers, then you should reflect professionally of them. They can ask you to get a haircut and shave in keeping with that image. They are not unreasonable in asking this. Or they can remove you from working with customers.

All the company needs is a few customer complaints and they can terminate you. Courts will back up the company since they know that the business of business is business. And that you are hurting this company’s business. Ask yourself this, is your hair and beard more important than satisfying this company’s customers? Of course not. If you want to work there, then look professional. Otherwise, get a job where no one cares about your hair. They’ve tried to make a reasonable accommodation to you and you refused. The ball is in your court. Trim your beard neatly and cut your hair so it looks like Kenny Rogers. No one can then have a reasonable complaint then. The key is to look neat. You think you look neat but no one else does. This is reality check time. The sixties are over. So do what is right for everyone. If you were in high school, possibly you could fight it. But you are not a captive audience, however, attractive you think is your hair. Have you put yourself in the shoes of your managers/owners whose goal is avoiding customer complaints? Think WEGO. Do feel free to keep us posted on what you do.
Dan Kearney & Bill Gorden

Added by T. Rowe: Hair is a very personal statement, but is one of those aspects of our appearance that others notice more than we do, since they have to look at us all the time. Perhaps you can find a way to look more appropriate for your business while working, but still be able to wear it as you wish during off-work hours. If not, perhaps a slight trim or a moderate trim will help, while still allowing you the extra hair length you like. If that won’t work either, find out the maximum length you are allowed and ask a stylist to help you reduce your hair to that length.

If short to medium length hair is all that is allowed, then you will have to decide if you want to continue working there or if there is a place that would be more accepting of your hair choices. As you likely have found out, employers can place restrictions on appearance for employees and often do so. The nature of the business makes a difference in what is considered acceptable and the nature of the customers of the business has an impact too, as was true in your case. What seems long, shiny and fluffy to one person may look like Charles Manson to someone else!It is also true that the demeanor of a person can make a difference in how the rest of him or her is accepted. A friendly, smiling, helpful and pleasant person can often sell a hair or clothing style that would be rejected if it was worn by a surly or unusual acting person or even just a quiet, unresponsive person.

You may want to find out if the problem was your hair or your hair, combined with something about your actions. Sometimes the age of a person makes a difference as well. Young men may wear longer hair and seem only slightly counter-culture and be considered going through a phase, but long hair on an older man may seem rebellious, bizarre or strange, since it is not common.On the other hand, often managers and supervisors will say someone else complained, to avoid confronting an employee directly about an issue. That may be true in this case. It may be that your hair looks different now than when you were hired and the difference is the problem. You may only have to make slight changes to bring it back to where it was, when it was considered acceptable. The employee manual may have guidelines that your supervisor has ignored until now and feels that he must take action about. Or, only one customer may have complained, but that gave your manager the excuse he needed to say something he had been thinking about all along.Don’t let this become a source of contention between you and your manager or supervisor.

Your actions and reactions may have an influence over the restrictions they place or how much they are willing to work with you about it. They do have the authority to set the restrictions, so keeping positive feelings can be helpful.Consider this: Go to a styling salon that caters to men and ask them for advice. They may be able to show you how a slight trim could control an out-of control look. Or, they might be able to suggest an easy but tidy way to put your hair in a pony-tail that starts at the nape of your neck. Or, in a pony-tail, then tucked into a small roll or bun at the nape of your neck. I saw a young man working at a business supply store wearing his hair that way not long ago. You might also be able to single-braid it attractively. Or, a styling product may keep it from fluffing out in a way that draws it to the attention of those who don’t think long hair is proper for work.Best wishes with this issue. I’d be interested in knowing the result, if you have the time to contact us and wish to do so.–

Tina Lewis Rowe


Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina had a thirty-three year career in law enforcement, serving with the Denver Police Department from 1969-1994 and was the Presidential United States Marshal for Colorado from 1994-2002. She provides training to law enforcement organizations and private sector groups and does conference presentations related to leadership, workplace communications and customized topics. Her style is inspirational with humor.