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Let Them Grow Beards: UPS Relaxes Rules On Drivers' Facial Hair

A UPS driver stops at a traffic light on April 24 in St. Louis. UPS employees are now allowed to grow their beards as the company loosens up on its appearance rules.
Jeff Roberson
A UPS driver stops at a traffic light on April 24 in St. Louis. UPS employees are now allowed to grow their beards as the company loosens up on its appearance rules.

After years of strict rules surrounding its delivery drivers' personal appearance, UPS is loosening up and letting them grow beards.

Previously, the delivery company regulated employees' facial hair (no beards for the majority of workers and mustaches limited to above the crease of the lip) and hairstyles (Afros and braids weren't allowed). Piercings were largely restricted to earrings, and tattoos had to be hidden. Now these clear-cut rules have been removed, but styles still have to be suitable for the workplace.

"These changes reflect our values and desire to have all UPS employees feel comfortable, genuine and authentic while providing service to our customers and interacting with the general public," the company said in a statement.

UPS told employees the changes were part of part of an effort to "celebrate diversity rather than corporate restrictions," The Wall Street Journal reported. The policy change comes after the delivery giant hired its first woman chief executive officer, Carol Tomé, and as companies are more focused on racial and other social issues.

The company said that Tomé "listened to feedback from employees and heard that changes in this area would make them more likely to recommend UPS as an employer."

The road to eliminating these peculiar limitations was a long one. Some employees even started a petition, which gathered over 9,000 signatures.

"Many United Parcel Service drivers desire to have a beard," the petition said, "but it is strictly against the dress code because those in leadership positions at UPS believe that beards may be offensive to the public. Times have changed since the guidelines against facial hair were established. It's the 21st century and it's time for a change in the dress code!"

In 2015, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sued the shipping company for discriminating against employees who have to wear beards or hair below their collar for religious reasons. The EEOC also alleged that UPS did not hire or promote employees who failed to meet the appearance requirements. In 2018, the company paid $4.9 million to settle the lawsuit.

The Teamsters union, which represents UPS drivers and other employees, welcomed the new policy on employees' appearance.

"We are very pleased about it. The union contested the previous guidelines as too strict numerous times over the years through the grievance/arbitration process and contract negotiations," the union said in a statement. "We have proposed neatly trimmed beards during several previous national negotiations."

The company's fixation around appearances began with its founder James Casey, who was known for always wearing suits. The high expectations he had for himself were enforced on his employees.

Adedayo Akala is an intern on the NPR Business Desk.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.