On Monday, February 18, 2019, the New York City Commission on Human Rights released new guidelines to prohibit hair or hairstyle discrimination in the workplace. This prohibits harassment, imposing unfair conditions, or otherwise discriminating against employees based on an appearance associated with their race.
While employers may establish rules around maintaining an appropriate work appearance, they may not enforce policies that target specific hair textures or styles. This means they cannot ban or prohibit hair styled into braids, twists, cornrows, Afros, Bantu knots, fades, locs, etc.
Also, employers cannot ask employees or job applicants to straighten or relax their hair or implement unfair conditions based on other aspects of an employee’s appearance that is associated with their race.
If such policy exists, it is evidence of discriminatory treatment based on race and other protected classes under the New York City Human Rights Law. A few examples of discriminatory practices include:
- Forcing employees to obtain managerial approval prior to changing hairstyles
- Telling an employee they cannot be in a customer-facing role unless they change their hairstyle
- Refusing to hire an applicant with certain hairstyles
- Mandating employees hide their hair or hairstyle with a hat or visor
- And more
Violators can be fined up to $250,000 with no cap on damages to the victim.