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The Relationship Between Workplace Hairstyle Restrictions and Race Discrimination

Discrimination can come in many forms. One of those forms is through the policies that an employer creates and enforces. Sometimes, the discriminatory nature of those policies is fairly obvious; other times, it can be much more subtle. Take for example, restrictions on workers’ hairstyles. On the surface, it may appear to be an effort to ensure a professional appearance among all employees. Under the surface, it may be something that actually discriminates against certain races, like African Americans. If you think that you’ve suffered race discrimination at work, whether it was fairly overt or much more subtle, be sure you know your rights and your options. Contact an experienced New Jersey employment attorney promptly about your situation.

Some cities and states have taken action to eradicate this system of discriminating against certain races via hairstyle policies. Late in April, USA Today reported that the California Senate passed a bill that, if also passed by the state Assembly and signed by the governor, would include discrimination based upon an employee or job applicant’s natural hairstyles among the list of impermissible forms of discrimination covered by that state’s Fair Employment and Housing Act. This includes hairstyles like Afros, braids or twists, which are commonly worn by African Americans.

The argument for laws like this is that, while employers cannot discriminate against African Americans explicitly, by banning certain hairstyles, they can reject African Americans’ applications, deny their promotions and even terminate their employment on a disproportionate basis. Declaring these types of policies to be a form of workplace race discrimination would protect African-American employees. According to the California senator who authored the new bill, many African-American workers in past generations have been forced to use expensive and potentially damaging chemicals on their hair to make it compliant with some employers’ sets of rules, USA Today reported.

New York City already bans discrimination against employees wearing natural African-American hairstyles

Back in February, New York City took a similar forward step. In New York City, banning or restricting many hairstyles commonly associated with the natural hair of African Americans, including “locs, cornrows, twists, braids, Bantu knots, fades” and Afros is now prohibited. The New York City action acknowledges that many hairstyles, especially for African Americans, are both inherent to their race and also closely tied to their cultural identities.

In New Jersey, unfortunately, there is not yet a clear, black-and-white law that says that discriminating against certain hairstyles that occur naturally among people of a certain race is, in itself, discrimination based on race. However, if you have suffered workplace discrimination based upon your hair in New Jersey, you should not simply give up and assume you have no case.

While the discrimination you suffered based upon your hair may not, standing alone, be enough to give you a winning case, your skilled attorney may be able to help you recall additional things, or unearth additional information, that goes beyond just hair discrimination and gives a broader base of evidence of race discrimination. For example, your attorney may help put together evidence of disparaging comments and other actions taken that were based more generally on your race, and not just your hair. With that, you may have the pieces of a successful race discrimination case.

In other words, if you feel strongly that you suffered illegal discrimination on the job, there’s a decent chance you actually did. Always consult legal counsel to discuss your options. Contact the knowledgeable New Jersey employment attorneys at Phillips & Associates online or at (609) 436-9087 today to set up a free and confidential consultation and to find out how we can help.

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