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Beards, tattoos, facial piercings! UPS gets hip at 113

Buttoned-down firm relaxes rules on employee head and facial hair

The shape of faces to come (Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

Well into its second century, UPS Inc. (NYSE:UPS) has gone avant-garde, at least for its standards.

The Atlanta-based transport and logistics giant has eased up on its legendarily strict policies regarding employee appearance, including rules that have long governed employees with customer-facing jobs such as delivery drivers. Gone are the restrictions on beards and what the company, in a prior era, would have considered unacceptable hairstyles. In are Afros, braids, tattoos and facial piercings. Also gone are the company’s so-called gender-specific rules.

The notoriously buttoned-down company hasn’t thrown all caution to the wind, however. Piercings should look businesslike and be limited to earrings and small facial ornaments, UPS said in an internal memo first reported in The Wall Street Journal. Facial hair should not look unkempt and not present a safety hazard, the company said. Tattoos should be covered, according to the memo.

UPS would not share the memo’s contents. However, a company spokesman confirmed the Journal’s story. On Wednesday, UPS issued a statement saying, “We’ve updated our uniform and appearance guidelines” to “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.”

In the statement, the company said it is “determined to continue to make UPS a great place to work for all of our more than 500,000 employees around the world” and to make them more likely to recommend UPS as an employer of choice. The memo implied that the policy change came from Carol Tome’, UPS’ new CEO, who has spent much of her first six months on the job listening to employees about a wide range of issues.

For employees at many companies in this day and age, the unfettered freedom to style one’s hair, skin and face might seem like no big deal. But when it comes to an employee’s physical appearance, UPS is unlike most companies. Since its founding in 1907, UPS has been a stickler for spit and polish. Founder Jim Casey believed a clean-cut, almost paramilitary-like appearance spoke highly of the company’s professionalism.

To this day, UPS has demanded that its employees, particularly its van drivers who interact daily with customers and are considered the proverbial “face” of the company, look a certain way. Alternative hairstyles, facial piercings and tattoos were unacceptable. A driver’s brown shorts were cut to a specific length. Moustaches were frowned upon, and even at corporate headquarters, employees’ moustaches could not extend beyond a certain length. 

Company veterans — many of whom are now retired — recall the internal brouhaha that ensued when it was proposed that men could extend their sideburns below a specific point on their faces. For many years, male employees would be required to put on their jackets to walk from their offices to the restrooms. It was unheard of for men to take coffee breaks, go to lunch or converse in hallways with coworkers without their suit coats on.

In recent years, many of those rules have been relaxed. Workers have previously petitioned to overturn the company’s ban on beards. In December 2018, UPS paid $4.9 million to settle a religious discrimination lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission over the company’s rules on beards and hair length. UPS workers have been allowed to have a beard if they obtained a medical or religious exemption.

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Mark Solomon

Formerly the Executive Editor at DC Velocity, Mark Solomon joined FreightWaves as Managing Editor of Freight Markets. Solomon began his journalistic career in 1982 at Traffic World magazine, ran his own public relations firm (Media Based Solutions) from 1994 to 2008, and has been at DC Velocity since then. Over the course of his career, Solomon has covered nearly the whole gamut of the transportation and logistics industry, including trucking, railroads, maritime, 3PLs, and regulatory issues. Solomon witnessed and narrated the rise of Amazon and XPO Logistics and the shift of the U.S. Postal Service from a mail-focused service to parcel, as well as the exponential, e-commerce-driven growth of warehouse square footage and omnichannel fulfillment.