Do you or someone you love have natural hair or dreadlocks? Many people choose these hairstyles as a cultural or even a religious expression. The U.S. constitution normally upholds these freedoms of expression.
However, across the nation, it is legal to discriminate against a job applicant, an athlete or a customer because of their hair. Why is this form of discrimination legal? Just two years ago, the Supreme Court upheld employers’ rights to have discriminatory hairstyle policies.
A New York City law enacted in 2019 might change all that. The first of its kind in the nation, it forbids employers, schools and public buildings from having hairstyle bans.
What kind of hairstyles are “illegal”?
Many businesses, schools, sports programs and other buildings have dress codes. They usually claim that this is part of an effort to maintain an overall look of “neatness” or “professionalism.”
However, the New York City Commission on Human Rights finds that when employers ban natural hairstyles, they are targeting Black people as “legal” form of race-based discrimination. Their ideas of “neatness” or “professionalism” exclude a diverse expression of cultural and religious freedoms.
This law forbids an employer or building director from denying a person with the following hairstyles a job offer or another form of admission:
- Afros taller than two inches
- Free-hanging twists
How does a NYC law affect you?
Your cultural and religious freedoms shouldn’t have to change just to walk into an office. This law could set an important precedent for employers everywhere to update their policies and for workers to seek better legal protections.
If you believe your employer or potential employer discriminated against you, you might be able to change that. You can explore your legal options.