Of Manbuns and Microbraids

How is your workplace running these days? There exists a general consensus about what should and shouldn’t be said in the office.

It’s pretty standard knowledge that discrimination, jokes or comments by employees based on a person’s race, sex, ethnicity, and sexual orientation are a big no-no. That’s Workplace Behavior 101, right? But don’t pat yourself on the back too quickly.


Any workplace policies that ban employees from wearing natural hairstyles—including cornrows, Afros, and braids—are illegal and punishable by law

As of February 2019, in New York City there is now a whole new class of protected persons in New York City—Black people wearing what is commonly referred to as “natural” hairstyles. In February 2019, the New York City Commission on Human Rights released new guidelines stating that any workplace policies that ban employees from wearing natural hairstyles—including cornrows, Afros, and braids—are illegal and punishable by law. Moreover, this new policy allows employees that have been harassed or discriminated against because of their hairstyle to make a legal action against their employer, with employers who are found to have violated the hairstyle guidelines facing penalties of up to $250,000.  According to the guidance, examples of violations of the new policy include: a workplace grooming policy that bans hair from extending a number of inches from the scalp (thereby limiting Afros), and management telling a Black employee with natural hair that they cannot be in a customer-facing role unless the employee changes their hairstyle. In reading the new guidelines, the New York City Commission on Human Rights further elaborates, writing, “Treating an individual less well than others because of their actual or perceived race violates the New York City Human Rights Law. To establish disparate treatment under the New York City Human Rights Law, an individual must show they were treated less well or subjected to an adverse action, motivated, at least in part, by their membership in a protected class. An individual may demonstrate this through direct evidence of discrimination or indirect evidence that gives rise to an inference of discrimination. Black hairstyles are protected racial characteristics under the NYCHRL because they are an inherent part of Black identity.”

The Triangle Takeaway:

With the creation of a whole new protected class—Black people with natural hairstyles—every step must be taken to properly train both management and staff that discrimination on the basis of hair is not only unacceptable, it is illegal. Furthermore, when a person alleges that they have been discriminated against on the basis of their hairstyle, there must exist a consistent reporting mechanism for making a complaint and a thorough investigation resulting therefrom.The team at Triangle Investigations offers customized, highly-engaging, and constantly updated trainings to keep you and your team up-to-date on new changes in the law and how it can potentially affect your workplace and legal liability. Additionally, the team at Triangle Investigations is a diverse group of expert investigators, uniquely positioned to thoughtfully investigate sensitive issues around race and physical appearance.

Kia Roberts