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New Jersey Senate Considers a New Bill to Make Discrimination Against ‘Natural’ or ‘Protective’ Hairstyles a Violation of Discrimination Law

In recent years, lawmakers have started to address a subtle, but nevertheless insidious, form of race discrimination. That discrimination occurs when employers, as part of their dress and grooming policies, forbid the wearing of certain hairstyles that represent “natural” hairstyles of African-Americans. Complying with these rules can be not only emotionally stressful, but also physically painful and financially expensive for some African-American workers.

Lawmakers in New York and California have begun debate on ending this practice. Now, New Jersey is taking steps to follow suit. A bill is pending in the New Jersey Senate that would include discrimination based on these types of hairstyles among the forms of illegal discrimination barred by the Law Against Discrimination, has reported. Whether or not you are someone who potentially faces this kind of discrimination, the introduction of this bill is a reminder of the importance of having an experienced New Jersey employment attorney on your side who is up-to-date on all the most recent changes and evolutions of discrimination law in the Garden State.

The senate bill, as it is currently written, would ban discrimination based upon “traits historically associated with race, including, but not limited to, hair texture, hair type, and protective hairstyles.” (A “protective” hairstyle refers to any hairdo that preserves hair from damage. For African-Americans, that can mean many styles, including twists, braids, Afros and Bantu knots, among others.)

According to the report, the state senator who proposed the bill was inspired by a high school wrestler who was forced to shave his deadlocks or else forfeit a match. Many African-American workers have experienced similar difficult choices. The senator’s bill, if passed, would bring an end to workers being forced to make these choices.

Hair policies potentially inflict emotional, physical and financial harm

As the senator explained, the expansion of the Law Against Discrimination would protect African-American workers from “systemic discrimination because of a hairstyle.” The problems posed by hairstyle discrimination are actually multi-faceted. As the New York City Human Rights Commission noted in passing new rules banning this sort of hairstyle discrimination, certain hairdos are “an inherent part of black identity.” In addition to the emotional toll that results from being forced to suppress certain aspects of cultural identity just to compete for or retain jobs, there is also a potential for physical damage as well. Wearing certain non-natural hairstyles that might be required to comply with some employers’ rules could result in damage to hair in the form of things like breakage.

Additionally, some African-Americans may find it necessary to use chemicals on their hair in order to make their hair compliant with workplace rules. Those chemicals can often be very expensive to purchase and also have the potential to do considerable long-term damage to the hair itself.

In short, this new bill seeks to strengthen New Jersey’s anti-discrimination protections for workers by ensuring that they do not have to engage in suppression of cultural identity, spend large sums of money or place the health of their hair and scalps at risk simply to comply with someone else’s notions of what constitutes “professional” appearance.

Discrimination can come in many forms. Less commonly is it, “[racial epithet] need not apply.” Today, more frequently, it looks more like, “I’m sorry, but your hair does not satisfy our professional grooming requirements.” Either way, our lawmakers’ understanding of all the aspects of racial discrimination continues to grow. To discuss your workplace race discrimination case, reach out to the knowledgeable New Jersey employment attorneys at Phillips & Associates. Contact us online or at (609) 436-9087 today to set up a free and confidential consultation and to find out how our skillful and diligent attorneys can help you.

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