Can you refuse to hire someone with an unusual hair colour?

A candidate shows up to an interview with bright orange hair. What can HR do?

Can you refuse to hire someone with an unusual hair colour?

A candidate shows up to an interview with impeccable qualifications, excellent references and a positive personality. There’s just one thing: he has dyed his hair bright orange.

Since the role is client-facing, the employer has come to the conclusion that they are going to refuse to hire this person. Is this a reasonable course of action?

The short answer is “yes”, according Hamish Kynaston, partner at Buddle Findlay.

Kynaston told HRD that there is nothing in the Human Rights Act that prohibits discrimination based on dyeing hair.

“There is nothing as a matter of law that stops you saying ‘I just don’t want someone with, for example, pink or orange dye in their hair’,” said Kynaston.

“The question should be: why would the employer refuse? And I imagine in client-facing roles it is a reasonable direction to take.”

However, Kynaston said there would be an issue if, for example, the employer said they are not going to hire anybody with black hair because then there would be discrimination issues.

“That would certainly be problematic but hiring people with really ‘out-there’ hair colour which they have changed deliberately is a matter of personal choice and not something that is protected under our Human Rights Law.”

So what about if an employer has hired a worker who decided to grow their hair long? Can they tell them cut it?

“An employer probably could as long as they have a reasonable basis for that,” said Kynaston.

“So again, it could be case where it’s probably a client-facing role, and you want an individual to be clean and tidy.”

Moreover, Kynaston said that in some cases if it was untidy it would pose a health and safety risk. For example, the workplace might be a kitchen or be around machinery.

“Having said that, employees can often get away with hats in those kinds of environments,” he added.

“If you are asking an employee to cut their hair because you would like them to be a bit tidier I think you have got more of an issue there because that’s a personal choice.

“Employers don’t have a right to control exactly how an employee looks, there needs to be a good work-related reason for asking them to cut it.”


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