£10k for PSNI officer 'discriminated against' over beard
A police firearms officer who was suspended for refusing to shave his beard has said he has been "vindicated" after an employment tribunal found he had been discriminated against.
Constable Gordon Downey was temporarily transferred from the predominantly male Armed Response Unit (ARU) in February 2018 for not being willing to comply with a policy forcing officers to be clean-shaven.
He later brought an employment tribunal case against then-Chief Constable George Hamilton claiming he had been discriminated against, a view which was supported by an employment tribunal.
The PSNI has said it is aware of the tribunal's findings and said it is currently examining the detail.
Speaking to BBC News NI, Constable Downey said: "To be turfed out of the unit, with little or no notice, for refusal to shave off a moustache, which doesn't affect the equipment I've been issued with, is total madness."
New rules outlawing beards and facial hair were implemented in 2017 for some units in the PSNI due to health and safety concerns.
The updated policy required these officers to "remain clean shaven whilst on duty" for health and safety reasons.
The case centred over whether respiratory masks used in certain police units, and which are supposed to be airtight, can be used safely if the officer has facial hair.
Expert advice to the tribunal panel previously claimed men would need "a moustache like a walrus" for the equipment not to work properly.
"The policy itself was being enforced against men under health and safety grounds, and yet females within our unit had hair in contravention of the same policy, not facial hair but head hair, where there was a grab risk," Constable Downey said.
"So the policy was being enforced against men and not against female officers."
Constable Downey said he tried to accommodate the policy by shaving his beard to a moustache but was also asked to remove that.
"As an older person with a receding hairline and alopecia who is slightly overweight all I can do is grow a bit of fur on my top lip, and to have that removed for absolutely no reason is wrong," he said.
The unanimous decision of the tribunal was that Constable Downey was discriminated against contrary to the Sex Discrimination (NI) Order 1976.
He was awarded over £10,000 for hurt feelings and loss of earnings.
Niall McMullan from Worthingtons Solicitors, who represented Constable Downey, said it was an important ruling.
"This is a significant ruling by the industrial tribunal, because it has essentially declared that the current PSNI policy is discriminating indirectly against males, in as far as the application of the policy is concerned," he said.
"I would like to see serious steps taken by the PSNI in relation to this decision.
"The tribunal were unequivocal in so far as they want the PSNI to review this decision and to ensure it has a less discriminatory effect on not just my client, but all male officers who it is relevant to."