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I work in a 75+ person office which, as far as I can tell, is culturally diverse and accommodating. A couple weeks ago my colleagues and I went out for beers and got in a discussion about the portrayal of hyper-masculinity in North America, in particular how "manly" beards are. Some of our Asian colleagues who speak English as a second language took offense to the stereotype and exclaimed they couldn't grow beards at all. We expressed that we do not take the stereotype seriously, and after insisting they drop the topic several times, we finally moved on.

Fast forward to this Monday: it seems at least one or more individuals has taken offense at this definition of "manliness", and a junior HR manager has decreed that all people sporting facial hair for non-religious reasons must now shave it. One individual joked "what next, no pocket knives unless it's a kirpan"? So then the junior HR manager also ordered that nobody may carry a pocket knife, even a multitool like a leatherman, unless it's for religious reasons.

I do not agree with this at all and do not want to shave my facial hair. Our senior HR manager returns in 2 more weeks from Hawaii, but in the meantime, we have to deal with the junior HR manager. Anyone who doesn't have a religious exemption has to shave, and now we can't even carry some tools in the office. I am trying to avoid hiring a lawyer to deal with this, since I don't think it will end well for me. There seems to be an air of racial hypersensitivity in my industry, so I think I would be branded a racist and made a pariah if I were to get legally involved in fighting this.

What can I do to fight this rule I don't agree with? Is there anything I can do to delay obeying this new "rule" until our senior HR manager returns?

Update - Friday, Nov. 6, 2015

Me and a bunch of the CAD/PCB team decided to cause some hassle, noting that we were having massive delays with prototyping due to having to walk to the wire station every 5 minutes and use tiny pliers to cut off strands of wire, pop components out of reels, etc. Our senior foreman asked what this non-sense/prank was about, and we explained the e-mail to him. He called the senior HR manager, and he in turn, fired the junior HR manager, and sent her packing. The e-mail was addressed by our senior HR manager, and he noted that the e-mail was a draft policy that was not approved. Damage control, is my guess. It's Friday, and I get to keep my beard and leatherman.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Jane S Nov 7 '15 at 23:40
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When a situation goes to HR trying to enforce absolutes rather than a first step of negotiating for peace among employees - I would say the situation has already gone quite far from normal.

In something this weird, the first question is really - do you still want to work here? And what are your job prospects? The real bottom line is that you could end up in a "shave or quit" scenario, so you better work out what the answer is when you are NOT having a confrontation that will lead to adrenaline powered decisions. Figure out what you would do when you are in a rational headspace FIRST then obey that decision if faced with confrontation later.

Next, here's some options that may force a middle ground.

Weapons - comply with the letter of the law

I'm pretty sure that you are a rational enough human being that your problem is not that you can't bring your assault rifle, mace, or bow & arrows to work (unless you were Robin Hood for Halloween). The problem is that many functional human beings who work in tech carry not-overly-lethal tools that include knives, and there's many legitimate reasons why a pen knife or leatherman or similar is useful on the job (stripping wires, cutting zip ties, etc).

Don't carry it. Get together as a rational team of people who want to actually do their work and make a communal collection of tools. Keep the tools handy and near by for anyone to use. Keep them convenient enough that you won't need to keep them in your pocket.

If you also want to have the knife-like-tool with you when you leave the office, insist that you be given a neutral ground in which to deposit your personal possessions while on the job site - like a locker, a desk drawer, a coat hook, etc. Leave the tools there, and take them with you when go home.

Trying to figure out how to "win" and obliterate the rule completely when the rule is about something that is perceived as dangerous (whether or not that's true), is a waste of your time and not likely to end well.

Delaying tactics about Beard Legislation

Facial hair never never hurt anyone ... so this is a different situation.

The right answer here is for saner heads to prevail and for your office to have some time spent discussing cultural norms and respect. Whatever the conversation was that you had that night after work, your colleagues got seriously pissed off. I'm sure you didn't mean to be offensive, and I'm sure there was a better way for them to point out that you'd touched a nerve and for all of you to have worked it out w/out involving HR... but that's not what happened.

It sounds to me like the office really could use some sort of cultural sensitivity training.

But instead Jr. HR Guy went with rules and regulations that are dumb.

If you really don't want to lose the beard and think it's reasonable to delay until Sr. HR Guy gets back - then here's some good tactics:

  • Your chin has a sensitivity to light, it's a health risk for you to shave. You have every intention of complying but you need to check with your dermatologist. He's hard to book, you have an appointment in 2 weeks.

  • The Bible told you so.

  • You are a Pastafarian - in an effort to dress more like a pirate and prevent global warming you have grown this beard.

  • Work from home (thanks @HLGem) until there is another way to solve the problem.

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    Another possible delaying tactic is to ask to work from home until the senior HR manager comes back. And while you didn't intend to be offensive, clearly you were. So I would apologize publicly to the people who were offended. If you stay there, you will have to continue to work with them after all. – HLGEM Nov 6 '15 at 15:59
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    Rarely do I disagree with you, bethlakshimi, but here I have to. Characterizing a tool as a weapon merely because it has a sharp edge (as this tool is designed to do) is a level of ridiculousness that should not be tolerated in ANY organization. I am glad the junior HR person was fired. I applaud this company for standing up against such outlandish characterizations. – Wesley Long Nov 6 '15 at 18:11
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    As I said, rarely do I disagree with you, but here I have to. Fighting ridiculousness is always warranted, in my opinion. This junior HR person had no business being in any position of authority. – Wesley Long Nov 6 '15 at 18:30
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    The cost of fighting anything is the cost of the fight. I'm glad to fight ridiculousness if the cost is not too much time, and no risk of being fired for it. When the fight risks my career, my family, my health or my joy - I get more defensive of those good things over just proving that ridiculousness is ridiculous. On that basis, I'm proud to say, I've walked away from some truly righteous battles, but kept my own sanity intact. – bethlakshmi Nov 9 '15 at 19:45
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    I normally avoid pointing out typos in comments, but "loose the beard" evokes such a hilarious image in my head that I can't help it. Is this along the lines of "loose the Kraken"? "Loose the dogs of war"? – AHiggins May 15 '17 at 19:36
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It sounds like you're in quite a jam. When you mention that you don't want to hire a lawyer, you'll get very vague answers here. I'll try my best.

So, to add insult to injury, our junior HR manager has also ordered that nobody may carry a pocket knife, even a multitool like a leatherman, unless it's for religious reasons.

First, on the the knife-related rant (no offense intended), there has already been a court case allowing kirpans to be admitted in schools, court houses, etc, so your employer may indeed have some ability to legally ban pocketknives and other tools, while permitting kirpans. Kind of odd though. Kirpans are defined, even by members of the Sikh faith and numerous writers on the subject, as weapons. In Canada (I'm assuming that's where your complaint is originating from), one must considering three important factors with respect to knife law:

  • The actual use of the knife (are you typically using it to open boxes, cut rope, splice wires, etc, or are you waving it around or stabbing people?)
  • The intended use of the weapon (are you really holding on to it for use as a tool, or do you just carry it as a weapon and lie to LEOs when they ask you about it).
  • What is the designed use of the weapon (you'll be hard pressed to convince an LEO that the kabar you're hiding in your jacket is for opening boxes when a 3" folder or slipjoint would be better suited to the task).

Based on your statement, the workplace is preventing tools from being carried, with a ceremonial knife being permitted under the "reasonable accommodation of religion" typically observed in North America. I'm surprised they didn't just ban all knives outright.


Leave your pocket knife at home for now, since anything weapons related is very hard to fight in court.


Fast forward to this Monday: it seems at least one or more individuals has taken offense at this definition of "manliness", and a junior HR manager has decreed that all people sporting facial hair for non-religious reasons must now shave it.

This reeks of discrimination. I'll address this in a further statement below.


Our senior HR manager returns in 2 more weeks from Hawaii, but in the meantime, we have to deal with this idiocy.


As asinine as it sounds, it is the current policy at your workplace. The key question here is: how was this policy change announced?. If by e-mail, print off the entire message, including full headers: this will give some degree of trace-ability to your message, so if this goes to court and the e-mail server contents are subpoenaed, the judge can nail your junior HR manager to the cross for egregious abuses, and have verifiable proof to back it up. You are entitled to keep personal copies of changes to your employment agreement/contract.

Second, consider contacting your senior HR manager via his/her emergency contact number. Discuss the issue, and present it as a concerned employee that doesn't want to see this company you're working so hard to support get sued due to an idiotic person taking over for the senior HR manager while he/she is gone.

Third, document everything. Keep hard copies of everything, but don't do something silly like forward work e-mails to your personal e-mail account. While you are allowed to keep documents relating to your employment agreement, most companies see forwarding company e-mail to a personal account as a big no-no.

Finally, in writing, request this junior HR manager to re-submit this request in writing, as it is a formal change to your employment agreement, and you need have your legal counsel read it before you're comfortable signing anything.

Let us know how this turns out, and seriously consider putting the $500.00 down on a good lawyer! Good luck!

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    don't do something silly like forward work e-mails to your personal e-mail account . Why is that silly ? You have control over your personal account. Your company has control over your work account. If you get into a legal war with your company, you might need emails to prove stuff. The only way you can make sure that those messages will exist when you actually need them is to forward them to your personal account.... because that's the one you have control over. – Radu Murzea Nov 6 '15 at 12:32
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    @RaduMurzea Many companies have a blanket ban on forwarding work mail, and doing so will leave a paper trail on the company's computers. Better to save to a file/print to PDF, then stash that in a safe place. – jpatokal Nov 6 '15 at 12:44
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    @jpatokal If you're ever at the point where you need backups of email conversations because you've been fired and locked out of your account, the fact that forwarding those mails violated company policy will be the least of your problems. – Lilienthal Nov 6 '15 at 13:28
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    Actually you just save your pst file to a usb stick. They would have to do some serious serious cyberdigging to figure out that you made a copy of your pst and saved it to usb. Takes 2 mins to figure out who printed what or look at forwarded emails. – blankip Nov 6 '15 at 17:43
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    @Lawtonfogle - I understand that. I was the IT guy for years... I am telling a user how to get emails without their work knowing. You being the IT guy will understand that going through the user's hard drive forensically to figure this out is much much harder than looking at the print queue history right? (and obviously forwarding it on is kept at exchange server and may be fireable based on company policy) – blankip Nov 6 '15 at 20:14
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As far as the weapon goes, you're better off not going there. But facial hair is another story, there's plenty of Bible verses about beards if you want to go the fundamentalist approach. I'm assuming you're nominally Christian of some sort or could easily 'see the light' Here's a link to them from openbible click me

You can interpret those any way you want to your HR, they can't dictate your religious beliefs to you without digging themselves a very deep and potentially very expensive and embarrassing hole.

No mention of just a moustache though, your employer can demand male staff be clean shaven except on religious grounds if he wants. Any lawyer money you use to fight that from a secular position is just enriching the lawyer for nothing.

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    I think any organisation would have a very hard time making it stick. What next? All female staff are required to wear makeup and black stockings? Unless it's part of a defined uniform, then restricting an employee's individuality in this way would be arbitrary and unenforceable. – Jane S Nov 6 '15 at 3:20
  • Perhaps in your country, but this is an international site.... my country an employer can dictate pretty much whatever they want in terms of staff dress and/or facial hair. Even in your country it seems probable that continued offences against the workplace protocols in this area, if formally given, could lead to dismissal. – Kilisi Nov 6 '15 at 3:23
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    Note that the OP is almost certainly Canadian. Please don't make legal claims if you're not familiar with the jurisdiction as that can invalidate an otherwise great answer. – Lilienthal Nov 6 '15 at 13:33
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    Lying and saying you follow a certain set of beliefs just for the religious exemption is never an okay response. Aside from the dubious legality, it invalidates the standing of those who actually do require religious exemptions. – David K Nov 6 '15 at 13:37
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    @DavidK "it invalidates the standing of those who actually do require religious exemptions" - I think this is the whole point. Needing a "religious exemption" before you can wear a beard is ridiculous. Either your staff are required to be clean shaven or they aren't. Same with the issue of knives. If they aren't allowed, then religious people should not be allowed to bring their "religious knives" to work either. – Brandin Nov 6 '15 at 14:30

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