I heard about an accounting firm in Johannesburg that has published a new dress code for its employees that goes a little beyond requiring male employees to wear ties. This policy prohibits employees from wearing head coverings (this includes observant Jews and Muslims) on the basis that this practice apparently offends the firm’s clients. Women who have coloured their hair and who are starting to show their real hair colour as their hair grows out are required to have their hair re-coloured. Women who wear sandals are required to have their feet pedicured and no one may wear a fleecy jacket or windbreaker to the office which lacks reliable and effective heating.
I am going to see if I can get my hands on a copy of this policy so I can publish it in all its glory. When I heard about this I was completely taken aback at the audacity of the firm to attempt to impose such a restrictive, unreasonable and downright unconstitutional policy on its employees.
It seems to me that employers sometimes get a little too carried away in their own perceived importance and power and make more and more demands on their employees in the name of better competition and completely disregard that document we like to call the Bill of Rights!
While I find some of the requirements in the dress code absurd, the prohibition on head coverings is an outright violation of the Freedom of religion, belief and opinion. The right provides as follows:
Everyone has the right to freedom of conscience, religion, thought, belief and opinion.
Prohibiting employees from wearing head coverings where their religious practice requires it is a blatant violation of this right. If I were an employee I would report this new policy to the Human Rights Commission, organise protest action and if action is taken by the company to quash protests, refer this matter to the CCMA. Employers generally focus on their bottom line and own ideas about how best to conduct their businesses. Sadly this often conflicts with their duty to respect their employees and cultivate a healthy working environment. Sometimes they go too far. This is one of those times.