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UPS lifts ban on beards and natural Black hairstyles

"The new appearance guidelines recognize the beauty in the diversity of all UPSers," UPS Chief Human Resources Officer Charlene Thomas said in the internal notice.

UPS lifts ban on beards and natural Black hairstyles
Cover Image Source: Getty Images/ A pedestrian walks by a United Parcel Service (UPS) truck on July 30, 2020 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Justin Sullivan)

United Parcel Service Inc. (UPS) is relaxing its strict employee appearance guidelines by lifting its restrictions regarding facial hair and natural Black hairstyles such as Afros and braids. According to internal memos that have been reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, the shipping company said that the changes — which also include eliminating gender-specific rules — are part of an effort to "celebrate diversity rather than corporate restrictions." The new policy allows facial hair, saying beards and mustaches "are definitely acceptable as long as they are worn in a businesslike manner and don't create a safety concern," as well as what it calls natural hairstyles, "such as afros, braids, curls, coils, locs, twists, and knots."




"The new appearance guidelines recognize the beauty in the diversity of all UPSers," UPS Chief Human Resources Officer Charlene Thomas said in the internal notice. "We know that UPSers will always be respectful of our culture, our customers, and our co-workers when deciding how they show up and act on the job." The changes come shortly after UPS hired its first female chief executive, Carol Tomé, and the anti-racist protests earlier this year which forced US companies to reevaluate how they approach racial issues.




UPS is implementing unconscious bias, diversity and inclusion training "to ensure our actions match our values," Tomé said on a recent earnings call. The delivery giant said that the policy shift was implemented after Tomé listened to feedback from employees who said the changes would make them more likely to recommend UPS as an employer. "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 has long faced criticism for its strict appearance guidelines, which dates back to its founder James Casey who expected all employees to meet appearance standards. "Casey’s personal code of neatness was a discipline, a discipline he required of his managers, and through them, the entire UPS enterprise," Greg Niemann wrote in Big Brown: The Untold Story of UPS. However, these rules eventually ran the company into legal trouble when it had to settle a religious discrimination lawsuit filed by the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission over the prohibition on beards and hair length. 




"The EEOC alleged... UPS failed to hire or promote individuals whose religious practices conflict with its appearance policy and failed to provide religious accommodations," said the EEOC at the time, reports CNN. The commission also alleged that "UPS segregated employees who maintained beards or long hair in accordance with their religious beliefs into non-supervisory, back-of-the-facility positions without customer contact." UPS settled the lawsuit by paying a $4.9 million fine and enter into a consent decree with the EEOC to allow greater freedom to wear beards and long hair by those who filed for a religious exemption.




Lucinda Duncalfe, founder and CEO of, an executive hiring firm that promotes diversity, praised Wednesday's announcement as "great news" for addressing a broader problem of unconscious bias that was reflected in the rules. "These policies are hold-overs from a different era and reflect the biases that hold back progress, and performance," she said. "It never made sense that 'natural' hair was impermissible." Meanwhile, Teamsters union — which represents nearly 300,000 UPS employees — welcomed the change to the appearance guidelines. "We are very pleased about it," said Teamsters' statement. "The union contested the previous guidelines as too strict numerous times over the years through the grievance/arbitration process and contract negotiations. We have proposed neatly trimmed beards during several previous national negotiations."

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