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New York State Prohibits Discrimination Based on Hairstyle

On July 12, 2019, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed into law a bill amending New York State’s Human Rights Law by prohibiting racial discrimination based on “traits historically associated with race,” such as natural hair texture and hairstyles including, but not limited to, as braids, locks and twists.  The purpose behind this amendment is to remove an individual’s hairstyle from being used as a proxy for racial discrimination.  New York is now the second state, after California, to ban discrimination based on hairstyle.  This legislation piggybacks off of the New York City Commission on Human Rights’ ban on any workplace appearance or grooming policy that restricts, bans or limits natural hairstyles or hair textures associated with race. (Link to our article on NYC Deems Race Discrimination on the Basis of Hair is Illegal)

What does this mean for employers?  First, employers should note that they were already prohibited from engaging in any type of race-based discrimination.  This new amendment, which took immediate effect when signed into law, only codifies the connection between race and certain hairstyles that were common targets for discrimination.

Second, this new law does not prohibit employers from having a grooming or appearance policy in place.  However, in accordance with the new amendment, employers are not permitted to directly target hairstyles or natural hair textures that are traditionally associated with particular races through an appearance or grooming policy.  This means that employers must review their grooming and appearance policies to ensure that hairstyles commonly associated with a person’s racial identity, such as cornrows, locks, twists, Afros, fades, braids, or other hairstyles that are disorderly or inherently messy, are not prohibited.  In addition, any appearance or grooming policy must be uniformly applied among all employees and must have a valid, nondiscriminatory basis.

PMP is here to help with all employee handbooks and any appearance and grooming policies to make sure they do not conflict with this new law.


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