The New York City Commission on Human Rights has now issued new legal guidance regarding black people’s hair. According to local news, employers as well as gyms, libraries, school and nightclubs cannot force people to change their natural hair as a requirement for being admitted or retain affiliation. The determination went on to say that natural black hair has nothing to do with “professionalism” or “neatness,” which seems in direct contrast to the Alabama women who refused to cut or change her dreadlocks for a new job. In the latter case, the Supreme Court refused to hear the case, essentially saying that employers could do this.
Mayor’s wife weighs in
NYC’s first lady, Chirlane McCray, also spoke out in support of new guidance. McCray, who is African-American women who weaves her hair, said in a statement that, “Bias against the curly textured hair of African descent is as old as this country and a form of race-based discrimination.” McCray and husband Bill De Blasio’s son Dante is famous for his large afro.
This guidance comes in light of a high school wrestler in New Jersey who was forced to forfeit his match because he refused to cut his dreadlocks. The NYC Commission on Human Rights is currently investigating other cases of natural hairstyle discrimination, such as forcing the employees to wear their braided hair up or fired for wearing it down.
Employers need to have a policy for hair
Even Forbes magazine has weighed in on the issue of employee hair. The general upshot for employers who are concerned about employee appearance is to have clearly defined employee guidelines. For example:
- Avoid “neat” or “well-kept”: These terms are outdated. Avoid language that is vague, and outline clear expectations about look, design or color.
- Have a rationale: There should be clear reasons for why there are grooming or appearance policies.
- Be open to change: employers should ask themselves whether appearance or hairstyle impedes the employee’s ability to do their job. If the answer is no, then it may be time to reevaluate that policy rather than simply not enforcing it.
Ambiguity in judgment and enforcement can lead to confusion and serious legal issues for business. Working with an employment law attorney can be a tremendous help in avoid employment law litigation or arbitration.