By Paul Ziobro
United Parcel Service Inc. is loosening its famously strict guidelines on employee appearance, including lifting a longstanding ban on facial hair and allowing natural Black hairstyles like Afros and braids.
The delivery giant said the changes, which also include eliminating gender-specific rules, are part of an effort to "celebrate diversity rather than corporate restrictions," according to an announcement on an internal website and documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.
UPS, with more than 500,000 workers globally, has a long list of personal appearance guidelines that govern everything from hairstyles (no longer than collar length for men) to the length of shorts (minimally the middle of the thigh and preferably 3 inches above the knee.) Piercings, limited to earrings and small facial ones, must be "businesslike" and tattoos covered up. The rules primarily have applied to employees who do their work out in public, like delivery drivers, and excluded those who sort packages and load trucks.
The policy shift comes shortly after UPS hired its first female chief executive, Carol Tomé, and as U.S. companies are increasingly examining how they approach racial issues and other sensitive social matters. UPS is implementing unconscious bias, diversity and inclusion training "to ensure our actions match our values," Ms. Tomé said on a recent earnings call.
UPS said it updated its policies after Ms. 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's commitment to tidiness dates back to its founder James Casey, who was known for his neatly pressed suits and expected all employees to meet high 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."
Many UPS drivers took pride in their brown uniforms and clean-cut appearance, teasing co-workers who let their scruff grow beyond an acceptable five o'clock shadow or who wore wrinkled shirts. The militarylike rules -- sideburns not below the hole of the ear, mustaches not beyond the crease of the lip -- were observed strictly for most of UPS's history.
More recently, UPS workers were permitted to have a beard if they got a medical or religious exemption. Some local rules allowed drivers to obtain so-called "shaver waivers" with minimal fuss.
But the rules ran into legal trouble. Two years ago, UPS paid $4.9 million to settle a religious discrimination lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission over the prohibition on beards and hair length.
The commission argued the UPS policy blocked some people from being hired or promoted because of their appearances or religion, and relegated workers who had beards or long hair because of their religious beliefs to nonsupervisory, back-of-house positions.
Workers had in the past launched petitions to rescind the ban on beards, including one on Change.org with over 9,000 signatures. "Times have changed since the guidelines against facial hair were established," the petition read. "It's the 21st century and it's time for a change in the dress code!"
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," according to the documents reviewed by the Journal.
The company now explicitly allows a number of what it calls natural hair styles, "such as afros, braids, curls, coils, locs, twists and knots." It also eliminated any guidelines specific to men or women. "No matter how you identify -- dress appropriately for your workday," the documents state.
"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."
Write to Paul Ziobro at Paul.Ziobro@wsj.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires