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Has your workplace discriminated against your hair?

Across the U.S. workplaces everywhere have dress codes that are legally allowed to discriminate against people with natural hair. The Supreme Court has historically upheld employers’ rights to have dress codes, but a new NYC law might change that.

What hairstyles do employers target?

Only some hairstyles are banned under dress codes. Many dress codes have hairstyle bans to uphold notions of “neatness” and “professionalism.” These dress codes often target the following:

  • Dreadlocks
  • Afros
  • Cornrows
  • Free-hanging twists
  • Hair jewelry

They might go so far as to force people with natural hair to cut or style their hair in ways that are difficult, damaging or expensive. They might deny a person a job or a promotion if they fail to change their hairstyle.

How are hairstyle bans discriminatory?

The New York City Commission on Human Rights found that these hairstyle bans unfairly targeted black people in a “legal” form of discrimination. They also pointed out that to many cultures, hairstyle is a form of cultural and religious expression.

On these points, it is now illegal for employers to have a hairstyle ban in New York City. This could set an important precedent for employers everywhere. In this situation, it is up to the employer to incorporate a diverse worldview into their ideas of “neatness” and “professionalism” to accommodate employees.

If your employer has asked you to change your hair for your job, you might have been the victim of workplace discrimination. If you were fired or refused a position or promotion based on your hair, you may want to explore your legal options.

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