By Lisa Rix - 30 July 2018
Temping agency TempTribe, who supply waiters, bar staff and porters for events for thousands of clients including The Body Shop, Fortnum & Mason, Wembley Stadium and Capital FM, have recently refused to engage a black student because she had dreadlocks.
TempTribe’s “ultimate guide” to presentation on its website appears to ban dreadlocks for men, as well as braids and ponytails. Although the company explained to the student that braids were permitted, dreadlocks were “an area of difficulty” for TempTribe due to many of their hotel clients’ requirements. However the company said that some of their other clients were more accepting of the hairstyle and tried to make amends by offering to meet with the student.
Since the media attention around TempTribe’s hairstyle requirements, the company has updated its ultimate guide to state that exceptions can be made to the hairstyle requirements on religious grounds (which also applies to the companies’ requirement that men be “clean shaven”).
What should employers be doing?
The most common pitfalls for employers in the area of dress code requirements are religious and gender discrimination, but it is also important that employers do not discriminate on grounds of race or nationality either. These are the risks that TempTribe face in maintaining their hairstyle standards.
When setting requirements around hairstyles in the workplace, employers should ensure that standards imposed are not discriminatory:
a) “legitimate aims” are the justification for the disadvantage. Common examples are that employees cannot have long, loose hair for health and safety reasons or that hair must be a natural colour because the company wants to maintain a certain corporate image. (See our previous article on beards and health and safety here
b) the hairstyle requirement must also be “proportionate” in achieving that aim. For example, if the aim is to meet health and safety concerns, rather than banning long hair, dreadlocks or afros, you could require all staff to tie their hair back while at work or cover their hair. If the aim is to maintain a certain corporate image, it may only be reasonably necessary to impose hairstyle requirements on client facing staff rather than all staff.
For more on this topic, please see our colleague Natasha Adom’s recent article on black hair bias.