If there are any hipsters, lumbersexuals, or just regular non-categorized men who’ve enjoyed letting beards grow on their face working at building firm Mears Group in the UK, they are having a sad, sad day.
A diktat from company management, as reported in the Daily Mail, reads: “Operatives who work in a potentially dusty environment—all of ours—must come to work clean shaven to be able to wear appropriate dust masks effectively. A goatee may be acceptable so long as it does not hinder the correct fitting of said dusk masks—not guaranteed.”
This anti-face fur conclusion has been an apparently anguished one in reaching.
First, the note is addressed to “Guys,” which is deceptively pretty chill.
The razor then falls harshly and immediately.
“We finally have a clear instruction regarding operatives wearing beards/face masks, etc. This was discussed at length in our monthly H&S (Health and Safety) meeting last week, and the following directive was instructed from the top level of Mears.” (According to its website, Mears employs more than 21,000 people—all of them now subject to the beard mandate.)
We want to know the passionate discussions in those meetings. It sounds pretty intense, almost as if there were men gripping their beards, approaching management—surely alarmed at the passion in the room—and saying, “Is this what you want? To take this from me? This is me. Rip my beard from my face, and you may as well rip my heart from my chest.”
How extreme did the debate get? Was the battlecry, “Fight Beardism Now!” shouted? Or even the more defensive: “How dare you! I don’t keep a dusty beard!”
The top-level management meetings about beard growth should also have been recorded for posterity.
The British have a deep, and often very wittily expressed suspicion of things done in the name of “elf an safety,” and now—it would seem—the beard, modern man’s most cherished personal accessory, finds itself under attack.
Mears said there are only three exceptions under which an employee could keep their beard: if said beard could not be shaved for medical reasons, for which a medical certificate or note had to be provided; if a dusk mask itself could not be worn for medical reasons, for which a certificate or note would be required; or if a beard was worn for religious purposes, for which a note “must be provided by the church/mosque/synagogue/temple, etc.”
One might predict many sudden esoteric medical conditions and conversions to deep faith by the bearded members of the Mears workforce.
But not so fast. “Even in the above circumstances, this is not a disclaimer, and not guaranteed,” the notice to employees reads.
That means: Your beard is now our problem, minions, and your beard needs to go.
“This is now a Mears nationwide policy for the entire company. The HSE (Health and Safety Executive) take a strong stance on this, as do Mears. Anybody not adhering to the new policy will be taken down the disciplinary route.”
If you think this sounds like it could be an invitation to a raunchy day out, maybe a bondage picnic, think again. The hardly hidden subtext is: “Keep your beard, and suffer the consequences.”
There is even mention of signing a register at the end of the note—a register of what? The clean-shaven? One in which you promise never to grow a beard for as long as you work at Mears? One in which you are awarded 100 free shares in Gillette?
In a statement, Mark Soave, regional official for the London chapter of Unite (the UK’s largest construction union), said: “The arrogance of Mears is hair-raising [presumably the pun is intentional]. This is a highly delicate issue, which has huge cultural, religious and personal issues and where sensitivity should be the watchword. Instead members have been handed a decree from on high.
“This is clearly a case of Mears going for the cheapest option and amounts to penny-pinching stupidity. Other forms of masks are available and these should be offered to existing workers. Unite will always put the safety of our members first and creating huge resentment and anger among your workforce is never the way forward. Mears needs to withdraw this decree and enter into a proper consultation with Unite and the workforce.”
But Mears are unbowed. For them, it is hairless pink cheeks—or bust.
Mears’ Mark Elkington responded to Unite’s criticism with another statement: “Every employer in the UK has a legal responsibility to ensure that employees working in dusty or otherwise potentially hazardous environments are properly protected and in recent years employers have been prosecuted for failing to fulfil this duty.
“The simple fact is that no dust mask can work effectively unless it forms a seal against the skin. That is not possible with a beard or even heavy stubble. If the Health and Safety Executive did a spot site visit and found workers wearing dust masks that were not sealed against the face then we would be liable to prosecution.”
Beards may seem like they’re everywhere, and being worn by everyone with varying levels of hirsute coverage. But they are also being censured and patrolled.
In March, China banned burqas, veils and “abnormal” beards in the predominantly Muslim province of Xinjiang. UPS was sued over a discriminatory beard ban in 2015. The changing status of the beard on Wall Street was a subject of a New York Times article in 2013. In 2015 Gloucestershire Police in the U.K, moved to ban beards—suggesting if officers wanted to keep them they should wear “a beard net” over them. From policeman to beekeeper in one look.
In regards the Mears diktat, Keith Flett, organizer of the British-based Beard Liberation Front, said that masks are available that mean workers can work in dusty environments quite safely but that these cost more than a basic dust mask.
“The reality is that someone in a senior position is a pogonophobe and has decided to ban beards,” Flett said in a statement sent to the Daily Beast. “In many U.S. states such a ban would be viewed as discriminatory and hence illegal. In the UK that is unlikely to be the case. We are calling on Jeremy Corbyn to make it clear he will act on this if elected [as British Prime Minister] on June 8th.”