Are Your Company Policies Compliant with Hairstyle Discrimination Law?
Hairstyle discrimination can be a form of racism in the workplace, according to NYC Human Rights Law. The NYC Human Rights Law “protects the rights of New Yorkers to maintain natural hair or hairstyles closely associated with their racial, ethnic, or cultural identities.”
In particular, hairstyle discrimination has been a form of anti-black racism. Hairstyle discrimination includes work policies that prohibit natural hairstyles associated with Black people. Examples include policies that ban locs, cornrows, twists, braids, Bantu knots, fades, Afros and the right to keep hair in an uncut or untrimmed state.
The NYC Commission on Human Rights issued a Legal Enforcement Guidance on Race Discrimination on the Basis of Hair in February 19, 2019 that addressed this issue.
Why Africans’ Hairstyles Are Protected
In some cases, the hairstyle may protect the health of the hair. Black hair is susceptible to loss and breakage and other medical conditions when the hair is subjected to tension. Individuals may suffer from skin and scalp damage when forced to straighten or relax their hair.
Hairstyles are also protected because individuals may wear a particular hairstyle for medical, religious, financial, personal or spiritual reasons.
Discriminatory targeting of Black children and adults for their hairstyles traces back to white slave trading days. At that time, the hairstyle was described as “dreadful.” The term later developed into “dreadlocks.”
Historical Anti-Discrimination Established at the Federal Level
The U.S. Department of Defense, which is the largest employer in the nation, enacted a ban on Black hairstyles in 2014. After Black service members protested, it later reversed its decision. In 2017, the Army lifted its ban on female soldiers wearing locs and removed the words “matted and unkempt” from its Black hairstyle description in the Army’s appearance regulations.
If you are unsure about how revise your appearance policies to avoid hairstyle discrimination, our attorneys at Stephen Hans & Associates are glad to provide legal advice.