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Human Rights Commission issues employer guidance on hair policy

| Mar 14, 2019 | Firm News

In February of 2019, the NYC Commission on Human Rights released a statement on legal enforcement guidance and race discrimination. This statement was specifically about hair, and how anti-black racism includes issues such as not allowing black people to wear their hair in natural styles in the workplace.

In short, the Commission affirmed that any appearance or grooming policies that limit, ban, or restrict natural hairstyles violate the Commissions’ provisions on anti-discrimination.

What Does the Human Rights Law Do?

The NYCHRL protects, among other things, the rights of workers in the city to wear their hair in ways that reflect their cultural, racial, and ethnic identities. That can mean a lot of different options depending on the person’s race, culture, and ethnicity. For black people, it can include wearing their hair in:

  • Afros
  • Uncut or Untrimmed States
  • Twists
  • Cornrows
  • Braids
  • Fades
  • Bantu Knots
  • Locs
  • Other Untreated Hairstyles

Banning these hairstyles suggests a requirement to conform to white grooming standards, which is considered unacceptable. Employers, housing providers, and others are prohibited from doing this, but many still attempt to find ways around the law. Additionally, while black people are not the only victims of racism based on hair styles and other factors, they are frequently the most targeted of all groups.

Hair decisions are personal decisions

Cultural identity is only one of the many reasons why a person may wear their hair in a certain style. By restricting or prohibiting particular hairstyles, employers and others may — intentionally or unintentionally — discriminate. One reason that these hairstyles have been restricted is the belief that they are unkempt or may be unhygienic in some way. These beliefs have not been proven true, nor do they have any factual basis.

Disparate treatment and discrimination are prohibited

Under the NYCHRL, hairstyles may be a part of black identity and cannot be prohibited. Employers must treat all employees equally, regardless of the way they decide to wear their hair.

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