There are legitimate health and safety issues related to long hair in the workplace in certain industries. Examples include workers involved in food preparation who must keep long hair pulled back to avoid contaminating the food and the risk of long hair becoming caught in industrial equipment, potentially causing injury. However, one California state senator perceives a racial bias against people who wear “natural” hairstyles traditionally associated with African Americans and has introduced a bill to end this alleged form of discrimination.
The senator claims that African Americans of all ages, both male and female, have endured workplace discrimination, including bullying and termination, on account of natural hairstyles. They have reportedly experienced denial of jobs and promotions. She also alleges that courts who have heard cases relating to complaints of hair discrimination do not recognize the adverse effect that “Eurocentric standards” of professionalism and grooming have had on African Americans in the workplace.
Her bill would seek to give protected status to traits historically associated with race, such as hairstyle and hair texture, to protect African Americans from workplace discrimination on the basis of these traits. From the article, it is not altogether clear what qualifies as natural hairstyles, although the senator does indicate that the hairstyle known as the “afro” is currently protected under anti-discrimination laws.
According to the senator, her bill does not prevent an employer from establishing grooming standards, but would only require that they relate directly to legitimate qualification for the job. People who have experienced racial discrimination in the workplace, whether subtle or overt, may find it helpful to contact an attorney.