Two ways your employer’s dress code could be discriminatory

On Behalf of | Nov 7, 2022 | Employment Law

How you groom yourself, the way you wear your hair and the clothing you wear say a lot about you as a person, especially in a professional environment. Hairstyles, grooming choices and wardrobes all tend to reflect current trends. What is attractive or professional in one decade may be very unpopular the next.

Employers have to walk a fine line between allowing their employees some self-expression and maintaining a professional appearance on the job. Business dress codes usually leave some room for interpretation and provide guidelines for workers to conform to the company’s appearance expectations.

Sometimes, company dress codes can include subtly racist terms and may even violate California state law. Requiring professional hairstyles that include straightened hair or specifically prohibit protective styles used for curly or coarse hair could be a form of racial discrimination.

Banning protective or natural hairstyles

California lawmakers have attempted to protect those who face an undue burden because of their race by passing the Crown Act. Maintaining a strict standard of professionalism in the workplace can be a way for companies to subtly discriminate against certain groups of people, including specific races.

Requiring that workers straighten their hair or avoid specific hairstyles not only means a lot of time and money, but also a significant amount of chemical exposure over the course of a professional career. The Crown Act made it illegal for employers to prohibiting employees from wearing their hair in a protective or traditional hairstyle.

Enforcing a no-beard policy

Just like people with curly or coarse hair may need to use different hairstyles that respect their natural hair, so do some people require special consideration when it comes to facial hair standards. African-American men are much more likely than those of European descent to experience extreme irritation of their facial skin after shaving. They may have visible bumps that are both unsightly and uncomfortable.

Although the law does not explicitly prohibit no-beard policies at companies, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission specifically references them on its website about racial discrimination in the workplace.

Companies that don’t hire someone because of their hair or that take punitive action against an employee for wearing certain hairstyles may open themselves up to claims of racial discrimination. Understanding California and federal employment laws can help you fight back against what might be racial discrimination.


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