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Employee grooming rules can be a form of racial discrimination

On Behalf of | Dec 6, 2023 | Racial Discrimination At Work

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Racial discrimination at work can be systemic or interpersonal in nature. Interpersonal racial discrimination occurs when individual employees mistreat someone else because of their race. This form of racial discrimination can involve one-on-one harassment or a group of people targeting another group. Those engaged in this conduct might be teammates with the person targeted or could be in a position of authority.

Systemic or organizational discrimination often involves company policy. Refusing to investigate claims of racial discrimination or siding with the perpetrators when there is clear evidence would both be forms of institutional discrimination. Sometimes, even company handbooks and employee policies can lead to racial discrimination. For example, grooming policies are often a way for companies to hide subtle racism.

They impose an unfair burden

The simplest way for a company’s grooming or appearance standards to constitute racial discrimination is for the expectations of the company to impose an unfair burden on one group of people. Hairstyle restrictions are a perfect example. For decades, companies have demanded that workers maintain a certain type of hairstyle to appear professional.

Oftentimes, dress codes and handbooks will prohibit certain hairstyles, including protective hairstyles like box braids. Those with naturally curly or wavy hair would then need to invest thousands of dollars per year seeking chemical treatments or having weekly hair styling sessions that are both expensive and time-consuming.

Given that other workers can meet the standard with no effort while those of certain racial backgrounds may have to go to extreme lengths to comply with it, hairstyle standards, especially those demanding straight hair or forbidding braids and other protective hairstyles, might constitute discrimination.

A no-beard policy is another example of how grooming standards can affect one race more than others. Darker-skinned men are more likely than white workers to experience serious razor burn and visible skin irritation from daily shaving. Companies typically cannot insist on a no-beard policy that forces workers to shave because of the uneven impact of such policies.

Sometimes, discriminatory grooming standards focus instead on clothing and appearance. Language that targets one racial group over others could be as problematic as grooming policies that only apply to people with certain types of hair or skin.

Workers who recognize unfair burdens in their employment handbooks or contracts may need to discuss the matter with the company. If the business does not amend its policies, then a discrimination lawsuit may be necessary. Understanding the different forms of workplace racial discrimination can help people demand a more equitable working environment.