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Photo of Michelle Cohen Levy
Photo of Michelle Cohen Levy

Can my employer dictate my hairstyle?

On Behalf of | Jul 14, 2019 | Workplace Discrimination |

A hairstyle is an often personal, sometimes artistic expression of a person’s self. Many people of color experience discrimination in the workplace based on their hairstyles and this issue is becoming more and more relevant as people come forward to speak about discriminatory experiences. In this case, Forbes urges employers to reassess their policies on personal grooming to ensure they’re not inadvertently using a discriminatory practice. 

The first step is to consider current policies to see if they contain problematic information. Some language may be racially tinged, even if it doesn’t outwardly seem that way. Descriptions of natural hairstyles as unkempt or messy may be forwarding prejudicial beliefs, or in the very least adhering to an outdated concept of professionalism. Additionally, policies must be in place well before they’re put in to use. As an example, a policy shouldn’t be created on the fly when a new worker arrives with a supposedly problematic hairstyle. 

Grooming policies should also have a basis in reality. For instance, a hairstyle should only really be banned if it prevents a worker from fulfilling his or her job duties. Arbitrary policies are often called into question in discrimination cases, as their vague nature leaves them open to abuse. In the same token, those responsible for creating grooming rules should have a solid basis backing every policy. 

Any standards regarding grooming must apply the entire staff regardless of their race. For instance, if a black worker is chastised for wearing a braided style, white workers must also be subject to the same rules. Not only is this fair and just, it also illustrates that there is a tangible reason behind regulations related to grooming and hairstyling.