New York, NY: Commission Publishes Enforcement Guide on Hair-Based Race Discrimination


All Employers with New York, NY Employees


February 18, 2019


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The New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL) protects individuals from discrimination based upon hairstyles associated with racial, ethnic, or cultural identities.  In February, the Commission tasked with enforcement of the NYCHRL published guidance on these protections. Specifically, hair-based discrimination is defined as a subset of race discrimination, pointing to historical bans on natural hair or hairstyles typically associated with the Black community (e.g., afros, cornrows, locs, etc.).  Employers should beware of dress and grooming policies that (intentionally or unintentionally) violate this right.  The guidance provides examples of unlawful grooming requirements, including:

  • Any policy that specifically prohibits hairstyles commonly “associated with Black people,” such as afros, bantu knots, fades, braids, cornrows, locs, or twists;
  • Policies that require employees to alter their hair—such as straightening, trimming, or cutting—in order to conform to company appearance standards;
  • Policies that are apparently neutral, but are only applied against Black employees.

The guidance also prohibits harassment of employees based on hairstyle.  Examples of this type of prohibited conduct may include:

  • Requiring only Black employees to alter hair as a condition of employment;
  • Restricting Black employees with race-based hairstyles to “back end” or non-customer-facing roles;
  • Requiring Black employees to hide their hair or hairstyle with a hat or visor;
  • Refusing to hire a Black applicant on the basis that the hairstyle does not conform to the company’s “image” standard; and
  • Requiring only Black employees to obtain supervisory approval prior to changing hairstyles, and failing to impose the same requirement on others.

In the event a hairstyle may conflict with health or safety concerns, the guidance suggests that the hairstyle be addressed with non-discriminatory measures such as a net or hair tie.  Alternatively, employers are encouraged to discuss alternative safety options to accommodate different hair textures and styles prior to asking an employee to alter their hairstyle. Employers should become familiar with the definitions and guidelines included in the guidance, and review their workplace policies accordingly.

Action Items

  1. Review the Commission’s enforcement guidance.
  2. Have employee handbooks and workplace policy documents reviewed related to dress, grooming, and appearance for compliance.
  3. Have managers and hiring staff trained on the guidelines provided by the Commission.
  4. Subscribers can call our HR On-Call Hotline at (888) 378-2456 for further assistance.

Disclaimer: This document is designed to provide general information and guidance concerning employment-related issues. It is presented with the understanding that ManagEase is not engaged in rendering any legal opinions. If a legal opinion is needed, please contact the services of your own legal adviser.

© 2019 ManagEase

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