A Hefty Problem
One member of the NHF who recently contacted the Legal Lifeline thought she had a very unusual problem. However it was a surprisingly common one. She had a client who over the years had got bigger and bigger in size, to the extent now that the stylist was worried the chair wouldn’t able to cope.
The problem was exacerbated because her increase in weigh had coupled with deterioration in hygiene, and now her body odour was affecting other clients in the salon. The salon owner, naturally, wanted to know what she could do about it.
Under common law, a service to anybody they wish – there is no obligation to serve anyone you don’t want to. It’s called ‘freedom to contract’. In other words you are free to enter into an agreement to cut hair, or to decline as you see fit.
The main caveat to that principle, though, is where you refuse to perform a service on the basis of a ‘protected characteristic’ under the Equality Act – basically if you refuse for a discriminatory reason you are breaking the law.
There are a number of protected characteristics including gender, race and sexuality, but in this particular case the protected characteristic was one of disability.
A long – term impairment is considered to be a disability if it has or is likely to last for 12 months. Excessive weight was likely to fall into this category; and therefore refusing service purely on the grounds of her weigh could be illegal.
In order to justify any refusal to provide services t a disabled user, the salon must therefore consider whether any ‘reasonable adjustments’ could be made to accommodate the client. Reasonable adjustment in this context could be physical changes to the salon, such as wider doors, ramps with old-rails instead of steps, and bigger, stronger chairs.
Alternatively, adjustments could be to the manner in which the service is provided, for example by offering a mobile, in home service instead.
A salon does have to be reasonable when considering these, and cannot just dismiss them out of hand simply as being slightly more onerous. However, where structural alterations will be very costly, disruptive or perhaps feasibly impossible, that can be justification for dismissing those changes.
It is essential to consider reasonable adjustments whenever making any changes to the salon – even just moving the cash desk. But it is also useful to consider them every now and again to see if there isn’t any more you are doing to make yourself accessible.
By being as accessible as possible you give yourself the widest possible client base; and if you garner a reputation as a good salon for the disabled, this reputation can spread quickly and your appointment book fill up.
Bad hygiene is not, of course, a disability; however it could the symptom of a disability. The person may be unable to wash properly either because of a physical or mental impairment, so it is necessary to establish the root cause of the body odour – as tactfully as possible.
In this case the salon owner advised that the client did come in smelling clean occasionally, but not often. As such it was likely the problem was more one about her personal routine rather that her inability to wash. To that end the salon owner would have been able to say she would only the client if she presented herself clean.
However after assessing the salon itself, it was considered the changed to be made were too substantial because the steps were quite steep. There was currently too great a risk the chair would break, injuring the client and the cost of a bariatric chair was expensive.
As a solution, the salon owner said she would be prepared to go out cut and style the hair in the client’s home, but that it could no longer be done in the salon.
Obviously the client was disappointed with this, as the trip to the salon was one of the few times she left the house. But she was pleased she could still get her hair cut somehow.
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