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Dress codes often hide subtle forms of racial discrimination

On Behalf of | May 5, 2022 | Employment Law |

Federal and state laws protect employees from many forms of discrimination at work, including racism. Racist behavior by co-workers that creates a hostile work environment and racist policies by companies that limit people’s opportunities can lead to discrimination lawsuits.

Many businesses have learned how to protect themselves from allegations of racism by being more subtle in their discrimination. All too often, employment handbooks and company dress codes contain policies that may be racist. Having outdated policies isn’t necessarily discrimination, but enforcing them very well could be.

How are dress codes racially biased?

There are numerous ways that a dress code can include racial bias. Refusing to allow individuals with naturally curly hair to wear protective or natural hairstyles imposes a massive burden and expense on those workers.

Requiring that all male employees keep a clean-shaven face had also have more of an impact on African-American men than other workers, as they may be more prone to skin irritation from shaving. Even outdated rules banning gang colors may be a subtle way for companies to justify disciplinary action against workers from certain racial backgrounds.

When dress code policies only apply to certain groups of employees or create a disproportionate burden on workers from a specific background, it may be a subtle form of racism. Especially if your employer takes punitive action against you for minor dress code or appearance infractions, their enforcement of those policies might constitute discrimination.

If your employer has punished you for violating policies that are subtly racist, you may have grounds to take civil action. Learning how to identify and fight back against workplace racial discrimination will protect you and other people at the company.


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