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Mitchell Pollack & Associates PLLC

New law makes workplace discrimination for hairstyles illegal

| Jul 18, 2019 | Employment Law for Employers |

New York employers understand the difficult nature of running a business and how problems with human resources and employee relations can have a negative impact on the workplace and the business overall. To combat that, most employers will have detailed employee handbooks containing workplace policies such as appearance and comportment, and they expect employees to adhere to the rules therein. Recently, California passed a law that outlaws workplace discrimination based on hairstyles. Now, New York has done the same.

The law was signed by New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo. He stated that it was an attempt to avoid discriminatory practices from the past. With this new law, employers cannot mandate that workers alter their hairstyle to conform with the workplace or face termination or not getting the job in the first place. Employers cannot order workers to avoid dreadlocks, braids or for them to straighten their hair. This is frequently categorized as a racial issue for people of color concerned that their natural hair and wearing it as such could cause problems at work.

A recent case in which hairstyle was an issue in the workplace occurred two years ago in Westchester County. A woman was told by the manager of her store that her braids were “urban and unkempt.” The manager also said the woman should change her hairstyle by using certain products. The manager was fired. The law will encompass ethnic, ancestral and other aspects that are generally associated with a person’s background. If the hairstyle has a certain texture or style like braids, it will be subject to this law.

Obviously, it is inappropriate to comment on an employee’s hairstyle if it does not impact how they do their job. However, in certain jobs, there are requirements that the employer can implement and this could lead to confusion based on this law. In other instances, there are accusations or misunderstandings that could lead to an employee making unwarranted claims against an employer. Although it is easy to see the perspective of those who were affected by discrimination based on hairstyles, employers must still be protected when they are accused of illegality based on this new law. Having legal advice from a firm that handles employment law for employers is key.