An employee handbook (that I signed seven years ago) says workers can have a beard, but now a new area manager says I have to shave. What can I do?
– Server, Applebee’s, Sutherlin, Ore.
First, congratulations on your longevity in your position. The company is obviously doing something right to retain its employees, despite this unexpected change in policy.
Restaurant employee policies often change for a variety of reasons—changes in health codes, wage law, or other regulations, guest feedback, critical incidents, new technologies or new leadership, to name a few. For example, when we considered employee cellphone policies last week, it became clear that the culture from seven years ago has changed, so policies need to adapt. Good employee manuals have some provision to protect the operation, saying that policies are subject to change and that it is the employee’s responsibility to observe the current policy. In all likelihood, you signed something to that effect.
That said, as someone whose last shave was April 18, 1997, the day I graduated from culinary school (and its dress code), I feel your frustration, even many beard snoods later. It seems to me that unless you have a medical or religious justification for your beard, your best course of action would be a frank conversation with the new manager detailing your concerns and the value your experience brings to the organization. Determine whether the new policy is an official change, in which case you should have been informed and should comply (or resign), or a preference of the new manager. Ultimately, if you can’t resolve the disagreement at that level, you’ll need to decide whether the job is worth altering your appearance, or he or she will need to decide whether your value and longevity to the company is worth an exception to the new policy. Alternately, perhaps given the language in the employee handbook, you are right and can keep the beard. As usual, communicating your concerns can go a long way toward a resolution.
As always, employers should check with their restaurant association and attorney to make sure the language in their employee handbook is effective and compliant with local law. Balancing firmness and flexibility is key.
More on employee handbook guidelines here.