What's good for the goose ...

Southland Times Work to Rule employment law columnist Mary-Jane Thomas
Southland Times Work to Rule employment law columnist Mary-Jane Thomas

My dad was dropping me off at 8.15am on Wednesday. It was raining heavily and it was cold (I mean cold for Southland).

Out of the gloom strode a school girl. We could see her clearly because her white legs (due to the shortness of her skirt) and her white school blouse were luminous under the street lights. That's all she was wearing.

My dad and I had a conversation. Did her mother know she was going out like that? Was there a big fight before she left the house? Had the parent given up on speaking sense to a teenager?

This winter I have often dropped my son off at school and felt guilty when I saw numerous children wearing shirt sleeves after I have just yelled at him for 10 minutes to make him take a jacket. He takes his jacket but clearly I am opening him up to being called a wuss at school because everyone else does not believe in jerseys or jackets.

Why is this relevant?

Our work place was, like many other work places, split down the middle about whether the kid with the long hair should have been suspended. Not since the Springbok tour have families and work places been so divided in opinions. I found to my shock and horror that there was even a young law student working in the holidays in our firm that agreed with the school's approach.

While I was not surprised that some of my partners in my law firm agreed with the stance that the whole fabric of society would fall over if this boy could go to school with his hair tied back I was shocked to find that some young ones also agreed.

Ironically I accept that as Crown Solicitor part of my job is representing "the man". I would hope however that our children still have the intestinal fortitude once in a while to argue with things that simply do not make sense.

Suffice to say I think suspending somebody because they do not have short back and sides is slightly irrational (and I am saying this as a mother not a Board of Trustees member).

I got doubly incensed by the argument that when you go to work you have to do what your boss tells you to do. The argument appeared to be that if the kid went to work and signed up for "short back and sides" then if he did not do it he could be fired.

That poses a number of interesting legal points:

It could not be for health and safety. Long hair can be tied back. Long hair can be work in a ponytail.

Could it be said that it was tidy - then the same would have to apply for the women of course in the work place.

If the women were not required to have short hair how would one differentiate between a woman's right to have long hair and a man's right to have long hair - you cannot of course.

Therefore ladies and gentlemen I would quite happily take a case to the Employment Tribunal that in a work place the employer could not differentiate between what was an acceptable hair style depending on whether you were a man or a woman. The Human Rights Act says that it is illegal to discriminate on the basis of gender. What an interesting case it would be if the kid applied for a job and was told he had to cut his hair but the female who had applied for the same job was allowed to have long hair.

Getting back to the kids who do not wear clothes to school for some unfathomable reason.

Just like parents, employers need to pick their battles.

If my son out and out refuses to take a jacket to school he will be refusing to follow a lawful and reasonable instruction. Is it worth a drama about it?

Mary-Jane Thomas is a partner at Preston Russell Law. She is always interested in ideas for articles. Email: Mary- Jane.Thomas@prlaw.co.nz

The Southland Times