Search form

New York City Releases Enforcement Guidance on Race Discrimination on Basis of Hair

By Lori D. Bauer, Richard I. Greenberg and Daniel J. Jacobs
  • February 20, 2019

Legal enforcement guidance on race discrimination on the basis of hair from the New York City Commission on Human Rights affirms that employer policies on appearance and grooming that ban, limit, or otherwise restrict natural hair or hairstyles may be unlawful under the New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL).

The guidance states that “while grooming and appearance policies adversely impact many communities, this legal enforcement guidance focuses on policies addressing natural hair or hairstyles most commonly associated with Black people, who are frequent targets of race discrimination based on hair.”

Carmelyn P. Malalis, the Chair and Commissioner of the New York City Commission on Human Rights, noted that “[p]olicies that limit the ability to wear natural hair or hairstyles associated with Black people aren’t about ‘neatness’ or ‘professionalism;’ they are about limiting the way Black people move through workplaces, public spaces and other settings.”

While the guidance primarily focuses on race-based discrimination, it also notes that protections under the NYCHRL as they relate to hair-based discrimination extend to other areas beyond race, such as discrimination based on religion and gender, as well as ethnic or cultural identities.

For purposes of the guidance, “natural hair” is characterized as “the natural texture and/or length of hair;… hair that is untreated by chemicals or heat and can be styled with or without extensions.” Moreover, the guidance notes that protections available under the NYCHRL extend to “treated hair styled into twists, braids, cornrows, Afros, Bantu knots, fades and/or locs.” The guidance also provides for the right to keep hair in an “uncut or untrimmed states.”

Examples of potential violations of the NYCHRL by employers include:

  • Maintaining policies that ban or require the alteration of natural hair or hair styled into twists, braids, cornrows, Afros, Bantu knots, fades, or locs.
  • Applying facially neutral policies in a discriminatory manner, e.g., enforcing a grooming policy banning the use of color or patterned hairstyles against Black employees only.
  • Enacting policies that force employees to straighten, relax (using chemicals or heat), or otherwise manipulate their hair to conform to employer expectations.
  • Enacting a policy prohibiting hair that extends beyond a certain length from the scalp.
  • Harassing, imposing unfair conditions, or otherwise discriminating against employees based on aspects of their appearance associated with their race, e.g., prohibiting a Black employee with locs from being in a customer-facing role unless they change their hairstyle.

While the guidance recognizes an employer may have legitimate health or safety concerns regarding hairstyles, it states that employers must consider alternative ways to address concerns before imposing a ban or restriction on employees’ hairstyles, such as use of hair nets, hair ties, head coverings, or alternative safety equipment.

Please contact a Jackson Lewis attorney with any questions related to employment policies and other preventive practices.

©2019 Jackson Lewis P.C. This material is provided for informational purposes only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice nor does it create a client-lawyer relationship between Jackson Lewis and any recipient. Recipients should consult with counsel before taking any actions based on the information contained within this material. This material may be considered attorney advertising in some jurisdictions. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome.

Reproduction of this material in whole or in part is prohibited without the express prior written consent of Jackson Lewis P.C., a law firm that built its reputation on providing workplace law representation to management. Founded in 1958, the firm has grown to more than 900 attorneys in major cities nationwide serving clients across a wide range of practices and industries including government relations, healthcare and sports law. More information about Jackson Lewis can be found at www.jacksonlewis.com.

See AllRelated Articles You May Like

November 13, 2019

Healthcare Employers’ Title VII Obligations in Harassment, Discrimination of Employees by Patients

November 13, 2019

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act requires healthcare employers to protect their medical staff and employees from harassment and discrimination and respond to any such behaviors swiftly and effectively, even if the actor is a patient, rather than a coworker or supervisor. A decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit... Read More

October 18, 2019

Pay the Piper – California Employers Pressed to Pay Arbitration Fees or Risk Harsh Consequences

October 18, 2019

California employers may face harsh consequences for failing to pay arbitration fees on time under a bill (Senate Bill 707) signed by Governor Gavin Newsom on October 13, 2019. The new law goes into effect on January 1, 2020. Under the new law, if an employer fails to pay fees required for the commencement or continuation of an... Read More

October 15, 2019

New California Law Attacks Mandatory Arbitration Again … But Is It More Bark Than Bite?

October 15, 2019

California has joined a number of states in passing legislation purporting to prohibit mandatory arbitration agreements for sexual harassment and other claims. Such laws have gained popularity in the wake of the #MeToo movement, but are subject to challenge under Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) preemption principles. (See our articles... Read More

Related Practices