(CNN)Twenty-five police officers in Prince George's County, Maryland, are on medical leave after the Prince George's County Police Department changed its grooming policy.
25 officers who refused to shave their beards put on leave until the pandemic ends
The policy, which formerly allowed officers to grow facial hair, was changed to require a clean shave to keep officers safe during the Covid-19 pandemic.
"It is not safe for our officers to go out in the public and wear an N95 mask without it being able to fit securely against the officer's face," the county's Chief Health Officer, Ernest Carter, said in a statement. "Beards and stubble prevent that from happening, so for the safety and wellbeing of our officers, their family members at home, and the community, they must have a clean shaven face."
Some officers, however, say that the policy put them in a prickly position.
Pseudofolliculitis barbae, a condition colloquially known as "razor bumps," occurs when curly facial hair becomes ingrown.
The American Osteopathic College of Dermatology has stated that some 60% of African American men are affected by the condition, which can be characterized by inflammation and scarring.
Indeed, the condition is recognized by the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which has said that a policy forbidding facial hair on the job can be racially discriminatory "if it is not job-related and has a negative impact on the employment of African-American men (who have a predisposition to a skin condition that causes severe shaving bumps)."
"Of course we do understand that some men, not only African American men, have skin issues that arise from shaving," Carter said, "which is why I recommended those officers be granted leave."
Angelo Consoli, president of Lodge 89 of the Fraternal Order of Police, which represents the officers of Prince Geroge's County, confirmed to CNN Wednesday that 25 of his members had been granted medical waivers.
Prince George's County Police Chief Henry Stawinski said in a statement that his department encouraged officers to come forward with medical waivers.
"The waivers have been and will continue to be accepted," he said. "Officers with waivers will be placed on a leave status since they are unable to shave."
Department spokesperson Harkirat Singh told CNN Wednesday that the policy change was meant to ensure officers didn't catch Covid-19.
"Please note that the prevalence of infection is still rising in the Prince George's County, and all of our decisions have been tied to the likelihood of officers becoming infected."