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What is hair discrimination?

As most Californians know, federal and state laws provide widespread protections for workers. Indeed, to comply with anti-discrimination laws, employers cannot treat applicants, employees or former employees differently because of their race, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation or color.

California law generally goes further than federal law. That is, in the Golden State, employees usually have broader protections than the federal government recognizes. According to the Office of Governor Newsom, the state now prohibits racial discrimination based on natural hair.

The pressure to conform

For decades, many employees in California have felt pressure to conform to certain appearance standards in the workplace. These standards have shunned the natural hairstyles many black workers wear, forcing them to alter their appearances. Because natural hair has a close association with race, the pressure to conform can border on racial discrimination.

Disparate impacts

Even though many employers have dress codes their employees must follow, certain seemingly race-neutral dress codes disproportionately affect black workers. This is because black employees cannot comply with Eurocentric norms without altering their appearances. As a result, employers should review their dress codes to ensure they are not having a disparate impact on minority workers.

Freedom of appearance

California law now prevents employers from taking adverse employment action against black workers who choose to wear natural hairstyles. Adverse employment action can include any negative targeting of protected workers. Ultimately, if an employer treats an employee differently because of his or her natural hairstyle, the employee might have grounds to file an official discrimination complaint.


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