A Shaved Head, a Layoff, and Charity

Most companies have dress codes, but sometimes it pays not to enforce them.


There are two ways to look at the story of Nathaniel's Restaurant—a subject of particularly heated discussion in the Canadian and U.S. media right now.

It's pretty simple: One way is to see it as the story of a business in Owen Sound, Ontario, and the other is to see it as the story of waitress Stacey Fearnall.

The owner of Nathaniel's told Fearnall to take the summer off after she showed up at work with a shaved head and reportedly refused to don a wig.

For the business owner, who had earlier warned Fearnall that he didn't think her buzz cut would be an appropriate look in his restaurant, the issue was probably nothing new. Restaurant owners are often on top of their servers' appearance—regulating visible piercings, tattoos, cleavage, and undergarments, while making sure clothes are clean, pressed, and uniform.

But Fearnall shaved her head to raise $2,700 for cancer research, which is why the issue has generated such frenzied opinionating. The response has been understandably personal among cancer survivors and their supporters, who appreciate Fearnall's efforts and recognize a shaved head as the often involuntary appearance of someone undergoing chemotherapy.

I think the point is not unlike the one made by Wal-Mart's misstep with the Debbie Shank case. Business owners who enforce certain principles of commerce or management without a greater vision of public and employee relations will sometimes see their enforcement really backfire.

In this case, public outcry forced Nathaniel's to shutter for a time, and may cause more permanent damage.

corporate culture

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