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Hair Discrimination In The Workplace


Studies have shown that in many American workplaces, there is a bias shown against those who wear natural hairstyles. But whether that bias is implicit or explicit has greatly impacted the way the modern workplace can create change among employee perceptions and in the hiring and firing process.

In the Good Hair Survey by Perception Institute, researchers evaluated the explicit rating of hairstyles as perceived by women, both African American and white, in the survey.

The study found that:

  • White women show explicit bias toward black women’s textured hair, rating it as “less beautiful, less sexy/attractive, and less professional than smooth hair.”
  • Millennial naturalistas have more positive attitudes toward textured hair than all other women surveyed.
  • Black women perceive a level of social stigma against textured hair.

In addition, black women expressed higher levels of anxiety than white women due to their hair, and report having professional styling appointments more often than white women.

The study concluded that regardless of the race of the participant, there was an implicit bias against textured hair.

So how does this translate in the workplace?

In July 2019, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo amended state law to explicitly prohibit discrimination based on hair texture or protective hairstyles as race-based discrimination.

The National Law Review reports that in addition to the 2019 amendments, “The New York City Commission on Human Rights is proposing a new rule that would formalize its previous enforcement guidance banning hair-based discrimination.”

Current law “protects the rights of New Yorkers to maintain natural hair or hairstyles that are closely associated with their racial, ethnic, or cultural identities.” This includes:

  • Locks
  • Cornrows
  • Twists
  • Braids
  • Bantu knots
  • Fades
  • Afros
  • And the right to keep hair in an uncut or untrimmed state

The new legislation would extend this guidance, and focus on anti-Black discrimination, clarifying protections based on race, creed, and religion.

While these laws do not stop employers from establishing fair grooming practices, such policies must not directly target hairstyles associated with persons of color or have a disparate impact on certain races or religions.

Policies do have loopholes however if a certain hairstyle poses “a legitimate health or safety concern.” Legitimate concerns will be based upon:

  • Nature of the health or safety concern.
  • Whether the restriction or prohibition is narrowly tailored to address the issue.
  • The availability of alternatives.
  • Whether the restriction is applied in a discriminatory manner.

While these guidelines and new expansions on legislation are designed to aid in the anti-discrimination fight for people of color, employees are still prepared to be met with resistance. If you are a victim of hair discrimination, do not stand for it.

Race, Hair Discrimination: Brown Kwon & Lam

As we continue to fight for equality in the workplace, we must continue to stand against these prejudices. If you are a victim of hair discrimination in the workplace or have witnessed race or religious-based discrimination due to grooming practices, make your voice heard. Then, contact the New York race discrimination attorneys of Brown Kwon & Lam to help you fight these injustices in the courtroom.