The New York City Commission on Human Rights released guidelines in February that made targeting individuals based on the way they wear their hair in the workplace, at school or in public areas a form of racial discrimination in situations where the hairstyle involved is associated with race. A bill introduced in Albany on May 20 by two New York City Democrats would extend this protection to all Empire State residents. The California Senate unanimously approved a similar law in April.
The bill expands the definition of race to include ethnic background and ethnic group identification traits such as hairstyles and hair textures. If the bill is passed, employers in New York could face racial discrimination complaints if they fire or demote workers or refuse to hire job candidates because of hairstyles that are traditionally associated with race. Company policies that require workers with such hairstyles to cut or restyle their hair would also be prohibited.
Hairstyles that would be protected by the proposed law include dreadlocks, cornrows, braids and twists. The state senator who sponsored the bill hopes to see the proposal debated before the current legislative session ends in June. Senate Bill S6209 was referred to the Committee on Investigations and Government Operations on May 23.
If this law is passed, New York employers with strict appearance codes may want to consider changing their rules. Someone who has been unfairly targeted for their hairstyle may be a victim of employment discrimination. An attorney with experience in this area could explain to a client the steps involved in pursuing civil remedies.