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Hair and Grooming Discrimination

A recent study found that African American women face the highest instances of hair discrimination and are more likely to be sent home from the workplace because of their hair. The study also uncovered that 80 percent of African American women felt they needed to switch their hairstyle to align with more conservative standards in order to fit in at work. Here you will find answers to frequently asked questions about hairi discrimination in the workplace.

  1. What is hair discrimination?
  2. Why do companies have hair and grooming policies?
  3. What laws protect me from hair discrimination?
  4. What States had adopted the CROWN Act?
  5. Does a potential employer requiring “neat hairstyles” violate hair discrimination laws?
  6. Is hair discrimination race discrimination?

1. What is hair discrimination?

Hair discrimination may be present when an employer has a hair or grooming policy that has an unequal effect on people with specific hair types. Specifically, hair discrimination affects Black Americans and other minorities with textured natural hair that has not been straightened or chemically changed. Hair discrimination is rooted in the idea that straight hair is clean, neat, and professional, while the belief is the opposite for textured or curly hair types. 

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2. Why do companies have hair and grooming policies?

Traditionally, similar to other policies like dress code and tattoo and piercing regulations, employers have hair policies to ensure that their employees are maintaining the clean and professional presentation that the company wants to display to its customers. The problem arises when these policies don’t equally affect all employees. Learn more on our Dress Code and Grooming page.

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3. What laws protect me from hair discrimination?

A law known as the CROWN Act prohibits discrimination based on hair style and hair texture. C.R.O.W.N. stands for Create a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair. Although all states have not adopted this law, enforcement of the CROWN Act will require employers and schools to examine their seemingly neutral hair and grooming policies and their unequal effect on Black Americans and other minorities.

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4. What States had adopted the CROWN Act?

On July 3, 2019, California became the first state to pass the Crown Act and it became effective January 1, 2020.The law updates the definition of “race” in the California Fair Employment and Housing Act and the California Education Code to be “inclusive of traits historically associated with race, including, but not limited to, hair texture and protective hairstyles.” In the state of California, the CROWN Act prevents employers from creating and enforcing grooming policies that they say are race neutral, but really affect protected classes negatively and unequally. 

New York has also adopted its version of the CROWN Act. The New York City Commission on Human Rights can now impose a penalty on employers who harass, demote, or fire individuals because of their hair. Natural hair treated or untreated hairstyles such as loss, cornrows, twists, braids, Bantu knots, fades, Afros, and/or the right to keep hair in an uncut or untrimmed state and included in the list of styles protected under the act. 

On December 19, 2019, New Jersey became the third state to enact a version of the act. New Jersey’s CROWN Act amends the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination so that the term “race” includes “traits historically associated with race, including hair texture, hair type and protective hairstyles.”

In 2020, Virginia became the fourth state, and the first southern state, to pass a version of the CROWN act. The Virginia Human Rights Act now includes hair-based discrimination under racial discrimination. The law, which went into effect on July 1, 2020, says that the terms "because of race" and "on the basis of race," listed in the Code of Virginia, include traits historically associated with race, including hair texture, hair type, and protective hairstyles such as braids, locs, and twists. 

While these are the only four states to date that have adopted the act, twenty-two additional states—Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, and Wisconsin—are considering enacting their own version of the CROWN Act. Additionally, Senator Cory Booker has introduced the CROWN Act of 2019 on the federal level. Under the federal CROWN Act, hair discrimination is a prohibited form of racial or national origin discrimination.

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5. Does a potential employer requiring “neat hairstyles” violate hair discrimination laws?

It depends. An employer requiring a “work appropriate appearance” is acceptable, but policies that ban, limit, or otherwise restrict natural hair or hairstyles associated with Black people are generally in violation of the anti-discrimination laws. Also, seemingly neutral grooming policies may also violate city law if an employer disproportionately enforces the policy against black employees. 

The answer to this question seems to depend on your employer’s definition of “neat” and your employer’s enforcement of that policy on employees. If “neat” does not include natural hair styles that are specific to a particular race or class of persons, then the policy is likely to disproportionately affect one group over the other and, as a result, violate anti-discrimination laws. 

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6. Is hair discrimination race discrimination?

In most cases, yes. Minorities have suffered hair discrimination for years. A recent study found that African American women face the highest instances of hair discrimination: 

  • A Black woman is 80% more likely to change her natural hair to meet social norms or expectations at work
  • Black women are 1.5 times more likely to be sent home or know of a Black woman sent home from the workplace because of her hair

Black women are unfairly impacted by societal norms and corporate grooming policies, creating distractions that impact our whole society. Black women report being reprimanded for violating grooming policies at a rate significantly higher than White women. As of February 2020, hair discrimination is race discrimination in three states: California, New York, and New Jersey. 

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, does prohibit employers from enacting neutral policies that exclude a protected class of employees. When employers have policies banning employees from wearing certain hairstyles to work such as locs, braids, bantu knots, that are natural to black people, it's not just hair discrimination. It is race-based hair discrimination because these rules discriminate against people of specific race because that natural hairstyles are traditionally associated with black. 

However, Hair and grooming discrimination could also result in other types of discrimination. For example, Rastafarians and Sikhs also allow their hair to grow naturally, so a grooming policy that prohibits long hair could discriminate against certain religions. Additionally, requiring employees to shave may aggravate skin conditions, resulting in disability discrimination. We may still find ourselves, however, at the door of race-based discrimination, if the skin condition caused by grooming, mostly affects black people as discussed on the dress code and grooming page.

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