Workplace policies and behaviors that seek to regulate employees’ hairstyles can be discriminatory if they disproportionately impact certain races.
Race is a protected class according to federal law. What does this mean and how does it relate to the ways employees wear their hair?
What is a protected class?
Federal law designates ten protected classes in employment. This means that any discrimination based on those ten classes or designations is illegal. Because race falls into this category, employers cannot legally discriminate against people because of their race. This means that certain traits associated with a particular race are also protected under federal law, although this distinction can sometimes be difficult to prove.
Why is hair discrimination race discrimination?
Policies regarding hairstyles predominately affect African Americans and other people of color with textured hair. Styles traditionally worn by Black men and women, like afros, braids and dreadlocks, are commonly targeted in employment hair regulations as they are often perceived as unprofessional or messy. Because Black hair holds significance as an expression of identity and a symbol of culture, attempting to regulate it can be discriminatory.
Such policies are not the only way that a company can discriminate against people with textured hair. Hiring managers and supervisors can also exhibit discriminatory behavior toward applicants and current employees by refusing to hire them or threatening to fire them if they do not comply with hair modification requests.
If workplace regulations regarding hairstyles are unfairly affecting workers of color, the company may be using racially discriminatory practices.