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Tuesday, June 20, 2006
Splitting Hairs
There is an issue that has hit the news this week that everyone should think about. The issue involves an investigation being undertaken by the ACLU into possible job discrimination by Six Flags America theme park in Maryland. It seems that several black employees who had dread lock-style hairstyles were told they were out of regulation according to the employee handbook and were told they need to cut their hair. The Six Flags employee handbook states that “any hairstyle that detracts or takes away from Six Flags theming” is not allowed.

This story has some interesting points that are debatable. First, does a company have the right to set dress codes and appearance policies? Second, does an employee have the right to sue if he/she does not agree with that policy?

Does a company have the right to set dress codes and appearance policies? Employees are representatives of the company and as such, should present an appearance to customers that reflects well on the company. It is certainly reasonable for business owners to be able to require employees to wear uniforms or hats, dress in business casual, or to wear name tags. Just as dress is part of the appearance, hairstyle, body piercings, etc. are also part of the appearance.

Does the employee have the right to sue? I’m not an attorney but it seems unfair to me for employees to claim discrimination because of a dress code. The employees affected have the right to seek employment elsewhere if the company policies aren’t to their liking. The company has the right to set standards for employee appearance as it affects public image. If an employee doesn’t feel comfortable with a dress code, that employee can leave and find a different job. If an employee doesn’t follow the dress code required and spelled out in the employee handbook, the employer has the right to terminate the employment.

Some general thoughts on the issue as I ponder it come to mind. One of the employees (a teenager) said that his mother already cut 2 feet off his hair but that his supervisor stated it was still not short enough. This particular young man’s job is to dress up in a Sylvester or Daffy Duck costume and wander around entertaining children so his hair is not visible. Personally, I have a lot of hair and it is very thick. I cannot IMAGINE having to dress up in one of those costumes in the summer heat. Sweat would be running into my eyes so badly I wouldn’t be able to see. Hair is HOT! It would seem that having feet-long hair in one of those costumes would be a high risk for heat stroke regardless of appearance or company policy. Should the young man be allowed to put his health at risk for the sake of a haircut?

Do I think the employees should cut their hair? Not if they don’t want to, but they need to make that choice knowing that it may have consequences on their employment and hire-ability. Everyone has choices and all those choices have consequences. One has to determine if the consequences that result from a choice are worth it. If the employee really wants to work for Six Flags, he’ll have to cut his hair. If the hair is more important, let him look for work elsewhere where his haircut may be more acceptable.

We are fortunate to have choices here in the US about jobs. There is no forced labor or indentured servitude. We deal all the time with people who wish to make a change in their employment for a myriad of reasons and they can do it. It’s allowed! There are also good laws on the books that prevent hiring discrimination and wrongful termination. This is not a situation of discrimination – simply a case of employees not wishing to follow the written policies of an employer, policies that are reasonable and understandable.

November 2005 / December 2005 / January 2006 / February 2006 / March 2006 / April 2006 / May 2006 / June 2006 /


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