About face: Idea of facial hair grows on some employers

Pharmaceutical sales manager Brian Murphy, of Edmond, shaved just about every workday morning for 12 years straight. At his company, it was understood that male employees were clean-shaven — or, if they had facial hair, it was neatly trimmed. That didn’t leave much opportunity for him to grow a mustache or a beard.

When Murphy was laid off in September, he suddenly had the time — and the disinclination to razors — to let his facial hair grow. “I hate shaving, and the last thing I wanted to do was shave and lay around the house,” he said.

“Getting laid off was similar to getting dumped by a girlfriend: It came as a shock, and afterward I spent a lot of time growing a beard and wearing sweatpants,” said Murphy, who accepted a new job in December. “Thank goodness I was able to find a job relatively quickly or I would have ended up looking like a cast member from Duck Dynasty.”

Policies differ

One Midwest City restaurant adheres to a policy similar to Murphy’s former employer, while Express Employment Professionals bans beards. But most employers, including Integris Health, take a more subjective and lenient approach to facial hair, with exceptions for religious and medical reasons.

“Facial hair should be well groomed and neatly trimmed and may not interfere with personal protective gear,” Integris spokeswoman Brooke Cayot said, quoting the corporate handbook.

At Primo’s d’Italia restaurant in Midwest City, facial hair is OK if employees are hired with it, Manager Blythe Plumley said. “But if not, they’re supposed to be clean-shaven; no five o’clock shadows,” Plumley said.

“This is considered a nicer restaurant, and our owner wants employees to look professional, nice and clean.”

Express Chief Executive Bob Funk said his company allows neatly-trimmed mustaches, but forbids beards.

“The Express dress code is designed to project an image of excellence and professionalism,” Funk said. “On a weekly basis, we have potential franchise prospects visiting our international headquarters and on numerous occasions, I hear that one of the reasons they chose to buy an Express franchise is because of our professionalism.”

Keep it covered

Clements Foods Co. requires all employees with beards to wear beard nets along with hairnets when they’re in the manufacturing area to meet food safety standards, Human Resources Director Denise Boevers said.

“An employee’s beard must be within a reasonable length so that it is fully contained within the beard net,” Boevers said. “Mustaches that are neatly trimmed to the corners of the mouth do not have to be covered.”

Meanwhile, American Fidelity Assurance Co. dropped its ban on facial hair years ago, Senior Public Relations Specialist Lindsey Sparks said. Similarly, Oral Roberts University trimmed its beard ban five years ago, according to Communications Director Jeremy Burton.

Oklahoma Christian University once banned beards, according to the 1968 and 1972 student handbooks, spokesman Wes McKinzie said. The exception was the month the college held its Western Day beard contest, he said.

Prickly legal matters

There are legal reasons that require employers to allow workers to wear facial hair, said Elaine Turner, an attorney with Hall Estill law firm in Oklahoma City.

“If the facial hair is required by a sincerely held religious belief, an employer is required under the law to allow the beard unless allowing the beard would impose an undue hardship on the employer, such as workplace safety,” Turner said. “Under the right set of circumstances, an accommodation may also have to be made by an employer to men who cannot shave due to medical reasons.”

According to the American Osteopathic College of Dermatology, up to 60 percent of black males and other ethnic groups with naturally curly hair get painful, itchy, inflammatory “razor bumps” from shaving. The condition results when shaved hairs curl back into the skin and become ingrown.

To promote its November men’s health and wellness initiative, Integris Health loosens its facial hair policy during that month, sponsoring a mustache-growing contest among the Oklahoma City Barons team members, as well as an employee contest for a grill and other prizes.

“It’s a humorous approach to get guys interested in their health,” said Steve Perry, systems administrative director for community and employee wellness.

For the internal contest, Integris employees voted on the co-worker with the best mustache, after photos were posted of the contestants’ respective before and after faces.

2013 Champion Glenn Young, a lead maintenance technician at Southwest Medical Center, said he entered on a dare from three of his staff who also competed.

“It was a fun month going to church and stores; everyone would look at you funny,” he said. “But … it was worth it.”