UPS Relaxes Outdated Employee Appearance Rules

Company Avoids a Crisis by Adjusting Policies to Reflect Contemporary Culture          

11/11/2020 – – One of the nine most common sources of reputational crises discussed in Chapter 3 of The Crisis Preparedness Quotient is “policies.” Failing to adjust policies to respect contemporary norms or implementing policies that are difficult to enforce equitably can create serious internal turbulence and external scorn for stubborn companies and organizations.

The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday that United Parcel Service (UPS) is relaxing employee appearance rules, including a contentious ban on facial hair. That long-standing prohibition spawned multiple employee protests and in 2018 led to the global delivery company having to pay $4.9 million to settle a religious discrimination lawsuit brought by the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

According to an internal UPS communication obtained by the Journal, beards and mustaches now are okay, “as long as they are worn in a business-like manner and don’t create a safety concern.” Afro hairstyles and braids are approved, and facial piercings, as long as they are “business-like,” will no longer get you into trouble with HR. But if you have tattoos, you’re going to still have to keep them covered.

Explaining that the updated guidelines “celebrate diversity rather than corporate restrictions,” a UPS spokesperson told the BBC, “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.”

Of course, there was a time when the phrase “business-like facial piercings” was considered an oxymoron in the corporate world. But times and mores change. Kudos to UPS for listening to its 500,000 employees and extinguishing a smoldering crisis.

Many observers are crediting UPS CEO Carol Tomé, who joined UPS in May from her position as CFO at Home Depot, with this enlightened policy adjustment. Tomé, the first female to lead the company in its 113-year history, said she “listened to feedback from employees and heard that changes in this area would make them more likely to recommend UPS as an employer.”

Time-honored traditions deserve respect. But to prevent policy-driven crises, accept the fact that even the most venerable rules, regulations and codes may have an expiration date. Examine them on a regular basis and listen to your employees who have to live by and enforce your policies.

For now, hold off on any facial tattoos.

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