How each of us wears our hair is based on a combination of our hair type and personal taste. It has nothing to do with our job skills or abilities in most lines of work. Yet, for Black workers in Los Angeles, their hairstyles are often the subject of scrutiny, criticism and unwanted attention from managers, supervisors and co-workers.
For those who have never experienced it, hair-based racial discrimination may sound ridiculous. But many employers see certain hairstyles associated with Black culture, such as dreadlocks, braids and Afros, as “unprofessional.” They carry out this bias by refusing to hire Black job applicants based on their hair or by passing on qualified employees for deserved raises and promotions. They may also create a toxic work environment by repeatedly making unwanted comments about a Black employee’s hair or by ordering them to change the style.
Hair-based racial discrimination and the CROWN Act
The problem is so pervasive that in 2019, Calfornia passed the CROWN (Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair) Act. The law prohibits discrimination based on employee’s hairstyle and specifically names hairstyles normally associated with Black culture “including braids, locs, twists or Bantu knots.”
Six other states have passed versions of the CROWN Act. In states that have yet to ban hair-based workplace discrimination, cities such as Pittsburgh and New Orleans have taken action.
Empowering Black employees to stand up to
Our hair is part of our bodies. The way we choose to style it is therefore highly personal. For Black people, being told by their supervisor or manager that their hair is unacceptable can be very painful. It may also be against the law in California.
Someone who has been fired, demoted or otherwise punished at work over their hair or who has endured a toxic work environment because of a hairstyle may be entitled to substantial compensation. Making an employment discrimination claim can be complicated, but an experienced employment law attorney can guide you through the process.