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City Law Now Prohibits Discrimination Based On Hair Style

All employers and housing providers should be familiar with the federal, state, and city laws prohibiting discrimination in employment or housing accommodation on the basis of protected categories such as race, religion, sex, age, and other protected characteristics.  The New York City Human Rights Commission recently issued a legal enforcement guidance memorandum interpreting the New York City Human Rights Law to prohibit discrimination based on an individual’s hair style, including but not limited to maintaining natural hair, a treated or untreated hairstyle, and/or the right to keep hair in an uncut or untrimmed state.  Discrimination based on hair is prohibited in all fields covered by the Human Rights Law including employment, housing, and public accommodations.

The guidance memorandum further states that “[w]here an employer does have a legitimate health or safety concern, it must consider alternative ways to meet that concern prior to imposing a ban or restriction on employees’ hairstyles.”  However, “[a]lternative options may not be offered or imposed to address concerns unrelated to actual and legitimate health or safety concerns.”  The Human Rights Commission “encourages employers and other covered entities to evaluate any existing grooming or appearance policies, standards, or norms relating to professionalism to ensure that they are inclusive of the racial, ethnic, and cultural identities and practices associated with Black and historically marginalized communities.”