John A. Klassen, PA Minnesota Employment Law Attorney
612-217-4988 877-390-4527

Are employees discriminated against on the basis of their hair?

While many types of employment discrimination are talked about frequently, one that has recently been in the news is hair discrimination. Many Minneapolis residents may not know that hair discrimination is an issue faced by many Black people in the workplace on a daily basis -- people have been fired for wearing their hair in traditional Black hairstyles.

Where do these discriminatory policies come from? Generally it comes from the wording of policies in place in the workplace. Grooming policies often include language such as hair should be neat and well-kept, but these vague terms may be interpreted by different employees differently. Unfortunately, Black hairstyles are not considered "professional," which is why employers ask employees to cut their dreadlocks or change their hairstyle and terminate them if they refuse.

However, employers that have appearance policies that restrict certain hairstyles may end up causing racial discrimination or violating an individual's religious beliefs. Additionally, policies should be applied uniformly to all employees to avoid disparate treatment. For example, if a Black employee is terminated for dying their hair a certain color, then all employees with unnatural hair coloring should be disciplined.

While following company rules is important, it is also important to know that employers cannot enforce discriminatory policies in the workplace. If someone believes they are the victims of wrongful termination, they may be able to pursue a civil rights case against their employer (with the assistance of an experienced attorney) and positively change their workplace policies at the same time.

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