Can employers ban natural racial hairstyles?

It may be an unusual thing to consider for some; the idea of facing employee discrimination simply because of your hairstyle is something most people would not believe possible until it happens to them or someone they know. But the truth is, is that it can and does happen. Enough so that states have taken notice and are now addressing the issue through legal measures and legislative bills.

How the California Senate is addressing the issue

California has decided to join other states to stop discrimination against people who choose to wear natural hairstyles representing their racial or ethnic background. While some states have addressed the issue through court cases, California has decided to tackle the problem using their legislative branch. Recently the California Senate passed the CROWN Act. CROWN stands for Create a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair, which will now ban discrimination against employees based on the hairstyle that they choose to wear.

Senator Holly Mitchell of Los Angeles discussed the need for the bill to pass after stating that Google searches on unprofessional hairstyles will often depict pictures of women sporting their natural hair or wearing twists and braids, showing that more natural racial styles are often associated with negativity in the workplace. After Mitchell concluded her speech, the bill passed unanimously with a vote of 37 to 0, quickly moving the State Assembly. The passing of the bill was met with widespread approval from the public who are hoping to see this bill as the first step to ending discrimination against natural hairstyles across the country.

New York City puts in new protections, as well

The most populous city in the country decided to tackle the natural hair discrimination practices itself by implementing new protections through banning policies that discriminate against someone for their chosen hairstyle. The mandates were targeted at businesses as well as public places such as area gyms, nightclubs, schools, and libraries who may have required specific hair requirements to be admitted or retain affiliation. With the new policies, people would not be forced to change their hairstyles to utilize, patronize, or work in these facilities.

Why are natural hairstyles the target of restrictions?

Originally ethnic hairstyles became a target of discriminating policies because they were considered to be unprofessional in a workplace setting. But the Human Rights Commissioner of New York City, Carmelyn P. Malalis sees this as a way to make the policies seem valid. In truth, she feels that these policies were created for an entirely different reason. She states, “policies that limit the ability to wear natural hair or hairstyles associated with Black people aren’t about ‘neatness’ or ‘professionalism;’ they are about limiting the way Black people move through workplaces, public spaces and other settings.”

What prompted the new guidance in New York City?

The guidance came on the heels of controversy at a New Jersey high school. A high school wrestler attending a New Jersey school was informed that he would be required to cut off his dreadlocks or instead forfeit his pending match. An attorney for the student proposed to the state’s Division of Civil Rights investigate why there was such a fixation on a young man’s hair that they would force him to not participate in school activities.

Is New York City leading the way?

The guidance in New York City is the first of its kind in the country. Only last year the United States Supreme Court rejected a request to hear a case regarding the discrimination of Chastity Jones, who alleged that an Alabama Company denied her a job because of her dreadlocks hairstyle. The New York City Commission on Human Rights is currently investigating seven cases where alleged natural hairstyle discrimination may have occurred, including a case where black employees were forced to but braided hair up or risk being terminated. Under the new guidelines, employers violating the policy can face fines up to $250,000, be forced to make policy changes, or even be forced to rehire terminated employees.

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