December 27, 2022

Why Do You Care About My Hair?

In 2000, I had long hair that was permed. In an exit interview, my boss told me, “Oh….and your hair – you really need to do something about that.” That statement was not discriminatory, although it might not have been kind. I will assume positive intent. BTW, if you’re thinking my boss was a man, you’d be wrong. She was female.

Having said that, hair discrimination has popped up in the news with increasing frequency in the last few years.  On December 27, the U.S. EEOC filed a lawsuit against an employer claiming it refused to hire a job applicant because of his Spiritualist Rastafarian dreadlocks hairstyle. The lawsuit alleges the employer told an applicant in an interview that he would need to cut his dreadlocks to work there. He replied that his dreadlocks are worn for his religious beliefs, and he would not cut them. The interview immediately concluded, and the employer refused to hire him.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, requires employers to attempt to make a reasonable accommodation to sincere religious beliefs and practices.

In addition, in the last few years, many states (at least 18) and local jurisdictions (at least 40) have enacted laws referred to as “CROWN” Acts – Creating A Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair.  While the definition of hairstyles and textures that are protected vary, they generally prohibit discrimination in employment based on hair traits associated with race, such as braids, twists, and locks. There are also CROWN Acts pending in the U.S. House and Senate that are supported by the White House.

Practical Tips.

  1. Interviewing. Focus on the individual’s knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSA’s) as they relate to the essential functions of the job, not the person’s hair.  Sure, if their hair is blue, green, or purple, maybe that’s not your cup of tea and that’s not legally protected (today). But, judging an applicant by the individual’s hair style that is associated with race might not only result in your losing a well-qualified candidate, but it could land you in legal hot water, too.
  2. Dress Code or Appearance Policy. Review yours if you have one. Do you define “professional” appearance? Are there distinctions based on sex, race, age, or any other legally protected status, such as what men v. women should wear? When more employees are working remotely, this may be less important than it once was. Ensure your policy meets your business needs and passes legal muster.