Salon advert for ‘happy’ stylist gets the chop

I occasionally have breakfast or lunch in a nearby national chain of restaurants famous for its carveries. The online booking form has a box labelled, “Special requests”, and I usually type in something like this:

An attractive cheerful waitress, please.

When I arrive and say my name, the waitress – it’s always a waitress, are men excluded from these jobs? – will either smile (and sometimes laugh) or frown. If she smiles, she’ll get a tip. If she frowns, she won’t. Seems fair to me.

A piece in today’s Times:

A hair salon has been barred from advertising for a “happy” new stylist because a staff member at the job centre judged the word to discriminate against people who are unhappy.

Alison Birch, who runs AJ’s Unisex hair salon in Stroud, Gloucestershire, was dumbstruck when a job centre staff member said she could not stipulate happiness as a required quality for a new employee.

She had wanted her advert to read: “Part-time fully qualified hairdresser, must be confident in barbering as well as all aspects of hairdressing, must have at least five years’ experience working in a salon after being fully qualified. This is a busy, friendly, small salon, so only happy, friendly stylist need apply.”

Mrs Birch, 54, who has run her salon for 20 years, said: “It was less than an hour after I’d placed the ad that I got a call from a man there saying there was a problem. He said I couldn’t use the word happy because it discriminated against people who aren’t happy.

“I honestly thought it was a wind-up. In the end I told him I wouldn’t proceed with the ad. I can’t repeat some of the words I used.”

Mrs Birch said she had employed stylists in the past who had come into the salon “after arguing with boyfriends and slam the door”, and she didn’t want any repeats of that.

“All I wanted to get across in my ad was that we are a small, friendly salon and we wanted someone with a smile on their face,” she said.

“I still can’t understand why the word ‘happy’ should be such a problem. When you think about it, almost any word you care to use to describe someone could be regarded as discrimination.”

Martin, her husband, said they had been shocked by the staff member’s response. “I think we all go through phases of unhappiness. But to say happy is a discriminatory word seems a bit harsh,” he said.

The Times understands that the staff member from the centralised Find a Job service was new to their role, had been “overeager” in their decision-making and has been spoken to.

The Department for Work and Pensions said the word “happy” was not considered discriminatory in adverts. A spokesman said: “We mistakenly advised a customer to amend a job advert but have since offered to repost the original copy and apologised.”

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