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New York City First to Issue Guidance for Discrimination Based on Hair

The New York City Commission on Human Rights is issuing new guidelines which protect the rights of New York City employees to maintain their “natural hair, treated or untreated hairstyles such as locs, cornrows, twists, braids, Bantu knots, fades, Afros, and/or the right to keep hair in an uncut or untrimmed state.” These new rules fall within the Commission’s prohibition against race discrimination as hair may be closely associated with “racial, ethnic, or cultural identities.” While the law protects all employees, it is aimed primarily at protecting black individuals who have been the most adversely impacted by employment decisions based on their appearance. These new guidelines are at odds with federal court decisions across the country holding that that hair-related reasons for employment decisions are not considered discriminatory. The Commission believes these new rules reflect culture shifts in the U.S. where long-standing norms on appearance are being challenged.
Individuals who have been harassed, threatened, punished, demoted or fired because of the texture and/or style of their hair may seek redress for these acts and penalties up to $250,000 may be levied against those who violate the guidelines with no cap on damages. New York is believed to the first entity to provide such protections. These guidelines do not impact rules regarding putting hair up or wearing a hairnet for health and safety reasons. The Commission also has the right to require changes to company policy and the rehiring of individuals fired for hair related issues.