In February 2019, New York City released new guidelines that would provide legal recourse to those who have faced harassment, punishment, or termination due to their hair or hairstyle. As reported by The New York Times, the legal enforcement guidelines, which were released by the New York City Commission on Human Rights (NYCCHR), specify that targeting individuals based on their hair or hairstyle at work, in school, or in public spaces can now be considered racial discrimination. The law is applicable to New York City.
The guidelines seek to combat the disparate treatment of African-Americans who have faced discrimination due to their hair or hairstyles. The guidelines specify that New Yorkers have a right to maintain “natural, treated, or untreated hairstyles, such as locs, cornrows, twists, braids, Bantu knots, fades, Afros, and/or the right to keep hair in an uncut or untrimmed state.”
As reported by The New York Times, the guidelines are based on the argument that hair is inherent to an individual’s race and can be closely attributed to one’s “racial, ethnic, or cultural identities. Therefore, hair should be protected under New York City’s Human Rights Law, which protects individuals from discrimination based on their race, gender, national origin, religion, and other protected classes.
While the New York City Human Rights Law already prohibits discrimination on the basis of hair or hairstyle by housing providers and public accommodation places, the bulk of the new guidelines seeks to address unlawful discrimination by employers. According to the National Law Review, while New York City employers can keep a policy that asks employees to maintain a “neat and orderly appearance,” they cannot prohibit any of the previously stated hairstyles or require employees to alter their natural hair. As stated by the National Law Review, examples of prohibited policies would include:
- A grooming policy that bans twists, locs, braids, cornrows, Afros, Bantu knots, or fades
- A grooming policy that requires employees to alter their hair to conform with the employer’s appearance standards, including straightening or relaxing
- A grooming policy that prohibits hair to extend a certain number of inches from the scalp, which would limit an Afro hairstyle
The new guidelines do not impact current health and safety reasons for wearing a hair net, as long as the rules apply to all staff members.
Under the new guidelines, those who have faced harassment, threats, punishment, demotion, or termination due to the texture or style of their hair can now seek legal recourse. According to the Times, the city commission can impose penalties up to $250,000 on those who are found to be in violation of the guidelines and there is no cap on damages. In addition, the commission has the authority to force internal policy changes and rehires at companies who fail to adhere to the new law.
The laws and regulations surrounding employment practices in New York are ever-changing. It can be difficult for many employers to devote themselves to the time-consuming efforts to adjust their business practice to align by the letter of the law. When seeking how to comply with local, state, and federal laws, businesses should consult an experienced New York business and employment lawyer. The lawyers at Blodnick Fazio & Clark are experienced in handling various matters relating to business and employment law, including employment discrimination issues. For more information or to schedule a consultation, call our Nassau County employment lawyers at (516) 280-7105 or our Suffolk County employment lawyers at (631) 669-6300.