Natural Hair in the Workplace: What Are Your Rights?

As an employee, we would much prefer to be evaluated based on abilities, skills, or performance. However, we all know that this is not always the case and appearance in the workplace matters.

Natural hair is the newest rising star for black women in hair care and more women are choosing to go natural. However, the problems that women can face at work are not going away. If you wear a natural hairstyle, are transitioning into natural hair, or have natural hair, you may feel concerned about workplace discrimination.

Understanding Workplace Discrimination Law

Employees have federal protection from workplace discrimination through Title VII of the Civil Rights of 1964 (Title VII). According to the interpretation from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, discrimination based on race, gender, sex, sexual orientation, and national origin is prohibited.  Race includes physical characteristics, such as natural hair, facial features, and skin.

However, the courts have made a distinction between natural hair and natural hairstyles. Natural hair is the hair that grows out of your scalp, while natural hairstyles are defined differently and not subject to Title VII regulation.

Natural hairstyles denote how you wear your hair or keep it, for example, cornrows, braids, or in locs. An employer cannot discriminate based on natural hair, but they can legally ban natural hairstyles. Case law clarifies this position. Race includes physical characteristics that cannot be changed, such as natural hair. However, it excluded cultural ties that can be changed, such as natural hairstyles.

Tips to Help You Navigate Natural Hair in the Workplace

1. Follow Dress and Grooming Codes

You should read and understand the dress and grooming codes of your current or prospective employer. These codes should not violate state or federal law, but restrictions are allowed. For example, an employer may require hair to be neat, clean, and well-groomed, and not prevent a safety hazard.

2. Review the Workplace Anti-Discrimination Policy

You should find a copy of the Workplace Anti-Discrimination Policy in the Employee Handbook. Make sure you read and understand it and if you’ve got any questions, speak to the human resources department.

3. Research State and Federal Employment Laws

You’ll find federal and state laws related to employment discrimination online, in public and law libraries.

4. Research EEOC and State Employment Discrimination Agencies

Title VII and federal discrimination laws are enforced by the EEOC. State employment discrimination laws are enforced by state employment discrimination agencies. Both of these investigate discrimination charges based on race, including natural hair and other physical characteristics.

5. Contact an Employment Law Attorney

If you have any concerns about natural hair in the workplace or employment discrimination, contact an employment law attorney in your state.

6. Read Natural Hair in the Workplace: What Are Your Rights?

Written by Tracy Sanders, a respected Los Angeles-based attorney, this new guide is a complete understanding of federal and state employment discrimination laws in the United States. You’ll be inspired by real-life stories, case studies, and hypotheticals. The practical tips in the book will help you navigate the issue of natural hair in the workplace.

You’ll also find a wealth of information published on the World Afro Day website. World Afro Day takes place on 15 September every year and is a global day of celebration and liberation for afro hair.

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