Some New York workplaces may have policies on the book that seem at first glance to be neutral but actually lead to serious discrimination, especially those about hair and grooming. These policies may particularly affect black workers and other members of protected classes. A number of black employees have faced supervisors or even human resources departments labeling natural hair as “unprofessional” or counter to dress-code policy, despite the fact that these policies only affect black workers. People have lost out on promotions, been denied jobs or even faced termination because they maintain natural hairstyles.
New York has joined several other states in adopting legislation that explicitly bans discrimination based on hairstyles. These laws were introduced after widespread public outcry over multiple instances of discrimination against black employees, students and athletes based on hairstyles came to light. Of course, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 already prohibits allegedly neutral policies that specifically affects workers based on a protected class, such as race or gender. Many employment law attorneys note that hair discrimination is often also a form of race discrimination, because natural hairstyles like dreadlocks or Afros banned by these policies are specifically associated with black people.
Grooming policies may also run up against other forms of discrimination as well. For example, Sikhs and Rastafarians allow their hair to grow naturally, so policies that mandate clean shaving or bar men from having long hair could reflect a form of religious discrimination. Other types of grooming or shaving policies may also specifically affect people with certain medical conditions and act as a type of disability discrimination.
Workers who receive unjust instructions to change their hairstyles or grooming practices may have recourse under the law. An employment law attorney may provide advice and guidance on workplace discrimination and how people may take action to protect their rights.