On your first day of work, you made sure to look your best. You knew that your workplace didn’t allow unnatural hair colors, so you took out your bright, pink braids and opted for a more natural blonde. You had your new braids installed just a day or two before you went in, so you knew that they looked fresh and that you looked put together.
You were shocked when you arrived and your employer asked if you thought your hair was appropriate for work. In your mind, there was nothing unusual about it. On top of that, you’d put in extra time to abide by the same rules as others in making sure your hair wouldn’t stand out in bright or unnatural colors.
It didn’t take long for you to realize that the problem was that you had a so-called ethnic hairstyle. You knew that this was discriminatory, but you weren’t sure if that mattered. So, what should you do?
Can you be discriminated against because of your hairstyle?
No, it’s illegal in New Jersey to discriminate based on your hair. Whether you’re African-American and want to have dreadlocks or choose to wear protective braids, no one is allowed to discriminate against you just because of your hair or how you choose to style it. Keep in mind that the ban against discrimination only technically refers to natural hair associated with race.
You cannot be targeted because of your hair texture, type or protective hair style, according to the law, called the “Create a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair Act.” This act is an update to the already existing anti-discrimination laws.
What happens if you’re discriminated against due to your hair?
If you are discriminated against, you can pursue legal action. If the other party did violate the law, then they could face fines of up to $10,000 for a first offense alone. Second violations within five years come with $25,000 penalties.
As a person of color, your hair and its styles, whether protective or natural, are a part of who you are. You may do the styles you choose to protect your hair or to show off and celebrate your heritage. No one should discriminate against you based on your hair being in a natural or protective style. If they do, you can ask them to stop. If they don’t, then you can pursue a claim.