The Face Race

22 July 2009 By Benjamin Maltby

Oscar Wilde once commented, “It is better to be beautiful than to be good. But … it is better to be good than to be ugly.”

It seems employers have long since taken this brutal philosophy to heart: In one academic study, sociologists found that – all other things being equal – beautiful people were likely to earn an average of 15 percent more than their less attractive colleagues. There are several reasons as to why this may be so. Attractiveness is subconsciously associated with productive attributes such as healthiness. Good-looking people may also be naturally more confident, bringing greater social skills to bear in the workplace.

So, as a captain, is it lawful to turn down applicants on the basis of their (lack of) attractiveness? Well, although specific laws differ from country to country, the general rule is…yes, but be careful.

The law only bans discrimination on the grounds of certain recognised criteria such as age, race, gender, sexual orientation, etc. As long as you discriminate purely on the grounds of attractiveness alone, that’s fine – in theory. In reality, attractiveness can overlap with those recognised criteria against which you can’t discriminate. This is known as “indirect discrimination.”

Whether indirect discrimination has occurred will depend on the qualities you consider to be “attractive.” You could discriminate against people who are spotty, but not against someone who has ginger hair, as ginger hair only occurs naturally in white people – therefore you may be discriminating against white people. Similarly, if you think youth to be a key feature of beauty, then you may be discriminating against some candidates of the basis of age. Obesity, however, appears to exist independently of recognised discriminatory criteria – some people just eat too much and exercise too little, which hardly makes them the ideal candidate for an intense, physical job.

It may be possible – although it’s never been tested in the context of superyachts – that there is a “genuine occupational requirement” for a crew member to have certain physical characteristics (i.e. attractiveness), in the same way that models must be, well, beautiful. It wouldn’t be wise to rely on this, however, as an employment tribunal may well not understand the role aesthetics can play in an owner’s and guests’ yachting experience.

It’s worth bearing in mind that, once a period of employment has begun, it's perfectly legitimate for an employer to demand minimum standards of personal presentation in any event. Clearly, in the context of yachting, these standards will be extremely high, and this always should be spelled out in the crew member’s employment contract.

So, if it’s lawful to discriminate on the grounds of attractiveness, is it still right to do so? Let us know what you think in the comments box below.

Benjamin Maltby is a particularly good-looking lawyer with Palma-based consultants MatrixLloyd, providing impartial guidance on all aspects of yacht employment. Contact him at