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New NYC anti-discrimination law bans limits on employee hairstyles

Responding negatively to a worker’s hairdo will be regarded as an act of discrimination.
Photograph: Shutterstock

Restaurants in New York City were banned last week from limiting or criticizing employees’ hairstyles under a reinterpretation of the city’s anti-discrimination law.

Places that ask employees to forgo hair extensions or cut their hair are subject to fines and other sanctions under the regulatory change, which was announced by the New York City Commission on Human Rights. Employers are also prohibited from refusing to hire someone because of the way the applicant wears his or her hair.

The Commission’s reinterpretation of the New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL) is intended to protect African-American employees from prejudice in the workplace. But the new guidelines specifically address hairstyles, not the race of the wearer.

“Bans or restrictions on natural hair or hairstyles associated with black people are often rooted in white standards of appearance and perpetuate racist stereotypes that black hairstyles are unprofessional,” the regulatory body said in announcing the change. “Accordingly, the New York City Commission on Human Rights affirms that grooming or appearance policies that ban, limit, or otherwise restrict natural hair or hairstyles associated with black people generally violate the NYCHRL’s anti-discrimination provisions.”

The Commission said the protected dos include “natural hair or hairstyles that are closely associated with their racial, ethnic, or cultural identities.” It cited the examples of “locs, cornrows, twists, braids, Bantu knots, fades [and] Afros.” It also declared that employees have “the right to keep hair in an uncut or untrimmed state.

It added that acceptable exemptions would be narrowly defined.

The reinterpretation was widely described as the first instance in the nation of anti-discrimination regulations being extended to hairstyles. It has already been called a possible precedent for other areas.

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