- Starting September 29, Publix employees will be allowed to grow beards as long as the look is "neat, clean and professional," a spokesman told the Orlando Sentinel. The change in policy comes after decades of supermarket chain only allowing mustaches.
- Several online campaigns circulated by employees helped to put pressure on executives, including the Twitter hashtag #FreetheBeard.
- Publix stores in North Carolina and Jacksonville, Florida, had already been testing the new policy since early 2018, but the pro-facial hair decision will now be accepted nationwide in 1,196 stores.
In March of this year, Publix agreed to revisit its company policy after an employee petition requesting the allowance of beards garnered more than 18,000 signatures. The petition, which had been circulating online for more than three years on Coworker.org, argued that the grocer was behind the times. Many restaurants allow employees to have beards but require them to wear a beard net if they're handling food. The policy also wasn't fair to employees with sensitive skin, it noted, for whom a having a beard is more manageable.
Restrictions on facial hair are not uncommon for employees working in the food industry. But Publix no doubt disliked the negative attention it was getting from news of the petition. And with unemployment hovering just above 3%, the chain can ill afford to turn off workers who might otherwise be a good fit.
Plus, Publix doesn't want to be out of step with what it's customers and employees genuinely desire. The chain has made Fortune’s top 100 places to work 19 times.
In addition to updating its beard policy, this spring Publix announced it would raise workers’ pay. Around the same time, Walmart and Target both raised their starting wage to $11 an hour. Although some of the pay hike may be tied to the recent tax reforms, many analysts believe retailers are pulling out all of the stops in an effort to acquire, and keep, workers in a competitive employment environment.
Walmart announced it would reconsider its stringent dress code and began letting employees to wear jeans and a shirt of any color in a small number of stores. Target, meanwhile, has promised to raise its starting wage to $15 an hour by 2020.
Publix has a reputation as a top employer and grocery competitor. But increasing competition means the company can't rest on its laurels. As it fends of new competitors in its home state an moves into new markets in the mid Atlantic, Publix needs to be able to recruit and retain top talent.