COVID-19 & Facial Hair: Should Male Employees Be Forced To Shave Off Their Beards?

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The health community is split on the issue of whether male healthcare professionals and other essential workers should wear beards, in fear of harboring the novel COVID-19. Should male doctors be required to remove their facial hair in the best interest of their patients against the transmission of COVID-19? Is there a major difference in beard length and will longer beards make it difficult to wear FPP3 respirators, which are deemed a standard in the healthcare industry? This article will explore the issue in detail.

Respirator masks are necessary in order to protect against viruses, including COVID-19 and other germs that float in the air. The healthcare standard is an FPP3 mask which is superior to a surgical mask as this type of mask possesses an in-built filter that can filter out respiratory droplets that carry potential viruses. However, the seal between the mask has to be cleaned in order to make the mask work property. While no major studies were conducted as to the effectiveness of respirator masks, their use is still widespread among the healthcare industry and doctors testify as to their effectiveness.

The main issue in regards to facial hair in the workplace is the balance of rights between the professional and coworkers/patients. The safety of other people in the work environment comes first. In the healthcare industry, the patients retain the right to be protected against possible harm. This is why if beard-wearing is seen as harmful it could compromise the safety of patients. Henceforth, many hospitals advise their male employees not to wear beards during the pandemic.

Respirator Mask’s Application 

There is also the issue of mask effectiveness when the mask is applied over a beard. Large beards are known to cause issues with PPE face masks because they can effectively prevent the mask from sealing around the face, and the mask can’t pass the “fit test” – meaning it’s not 100% sealed on the face. Even smaller forms of facial hair such as stubble can have an effect on the sealing of a mask around the face. This is why all employers have an obligation to inform their male employees that shaving can help them minimize the risk they pose to the workplace.

Another major issue in the healthcare industry is that wearing beards is known as high risk and it creates a gender imbalance in the workplace. For instance, if doctors who wear beards are not allowed to see COVID-19 patients due to fear of transmission of the virus, this means that female employees will have to cover for them.

The Solution To Facial Hair: Individual Assessment

The solution – a balance of requests based on need. If the reason the male employee is wearing a beard is a personal/aesthetic reason, the employers should request them to shave off the beard while the pandemic is brought under control. However, if the employee is wearing the beard for religious reasons, they should be allowed to keep the beard in order to not infringe on their religious rights. In critical times, religious personnel might also be instructed to shave off their facial hair as a means to achieve a higher purpose – such as to control/minimize the risk in the workplace and stop the spread of an infection.

Prior to making religious exceptions, employers should consider the individual impact shaving would have on their employees. If they are considering exemptions based on religious reasons, they should consult with local religious authorities in order to determine a further course of action. Another alternative is for employers to provide a powerful air-purifying mask that doesn’t need a tight fit, such as the DittoMask.