Employee dress codes define a wide variety of expectations, from the level of formality expected in the office to safety precautions like close-toed shoes. However, dress codes that require employees to style their hair in specific ways may subtly discriminate against specific classes of people. Do these hairstyle policies constitute discrimination?
Hair discrimination is more common than many may think.
With their roots in ideas about grooming, professionalism or safety, many companies include guidelines about hairstyles in their employee manuals. However, these hairstyle guidelines often disproportionately impact Black employees—and Black women in particular. In fact, four out of five African American women felt pressure to change their hairstyles to conform with the expectations in their work environment, and many report having been sent home from work as a result of their hairstyle.
Recent changes to Virginia law expand the definition of racial discrimination.
While many employers may believe that prohibiting specific hairstyles in a grooming policy would not constitute racial discrimination, many of those policies are now forbidden by Virginia law. The Virginia Values Act (VVA), passed earlier this year, defines discrimination against hairstyles and textures historically linked to race as a form of illegal racial discrimination. This law also specifically identifies protective hairstyles like locs, braids and twists as hairstyles that fall into this category.
If you have experienced discrimination based on your hairstyle, you do not have to let this unfair treatment damage your work and your career. Consider speaking to an attorney about your legal options and how you can make your workplace more fair and equal for all employees.