Discrimination can occur directly or indirectly, and it’s a form of mistreating another person based on the specific characteristics they possess. New Jersey State has employment laws that legally protect the rights of employees.
According to New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD), it is illegal for any employer to discriminate against any person based on national origin, color, and religious creed. Also, the law covers mental and physical disability, ancestry, nationality, age, marital status, sexual orientation, sex, or the most recent one, hair.
Many workplaces have grooming policies or dress codes that, whether intentional or not, discriminate against people of color. Such grooming policies place an extra burden on the workers in terms of having to maintain their hair in a certain way to adhere to the given employment dress code. To many employees of African descent, their hairstyle includes:
- Weaves and extensions
- Bantu Knots
- Natural hair
Importance of the New-Hair Based Law Protection
Based on the given guidelines, any workplace policies that ban the above-given hairstyles are considered unlawful discrimination against people of color. The law is critical since most people of color do choose to wear the above hairstyles to protect their hair from the harsh chemicals associated with relaxers or straighteners. Many opt to wear natural hair as well, based on personal preference, finances, traditional, spiritual, or religious reasons. Prolonged usage of hairstyling chemicals may lead to
- Hair breakage
- Hair loss
- Skin and scalp damage
- Exposure to carcinogens
Other potential physical problems associated with hair restriction includes
- Emotional distress due to having to choose between your culture, natural hair and employment, and livelihood opportunities
- Spending a lot of money and time on hair styling appointments and products
- Anxiety due to possible stigmatization for not conforming to the given employment dress code policies.
Understanding the Law Against Hair Discrimination
New Jersey is the third state to prevent enforcement of grooming policies that negatively affect people of color, following similar laws in California and New York State.
In line with the national trend, the New Jersey States Governor Phil Murphy, on December 19th, 2019, signed and passed an Open Workplace for Natural-Hair Act also known as the “CROWN Act.” The legislative amendment was effective immediately, and it seeks to address both disparate impact and direct discrimination in the schools, workplace, and public accommodation places.
The law amends the States Law Against Discrimination (“LAD”), including the hairstyle discrimination in the existing prohibition of race-based discrimination. It defines the bias due to the person’s race to include but not limited to hair type, hair texture, and the protective hairstyles such as twists, locs, and braids. The law also includes gives the people of color the right to keep their hair in an uncut or untrimmed state.
An incident that prompted the law
The bill got signed one year after a high school wrestler from Buena Regional was told by the referee to cut his dreadlocks or forfeit participating in the match. While this incident garnered media coverage, claims of hair discrimination have been prevalent at different workplaces, both public and private. Employees do face termination when they don’t follow the given employment grooming policies. Some don’t get hired due to their natural choices of hairstyles like dreadlocks.
Employers Guidance on the Race Discrimination Based on Hairstyles
As the New Jersey State law prohibits hair discrimination, employers should consider modifying their grooming policies as follows:
- Consider adoption of race-neutral grooming policies that do require the employees to keep their hair secured or clean for safety and hygienic reasons
- Amend or do away with policies that limit or ban or restrict hairstyles associated with people of color.
- Employers should allow protective hairstyles and natural hair in the workplace
Penalties related to Law Against Discrimination
The Crown Act updates the New Jersey existing “Law Against Discrimination” in terms of penalties for anyone breaking the law. The first violation will attract a fine of $10,000. In contrast, the maximum penalty for the second violation, if it happens within five years, draws $25,000. And the third and subsequent violation that occurs within seven years could attract a fine of $50,000.
What to do in case you become a victim of Hair Discrimination
An individual’s natural hair or hairstyle is connected with cultural, racial, or ethnic identities. Thus, when an employer bans employees from certain hairstyles, it goes to the root of who they are.
If you feel discriminated in your workplace, you may file for a Law Against Discrimination Lawsuit personally or through an attorney. Typically, the first file of charges should be with the federal agency or state that enforces the given law. If the dispute is not resolved, it’s time to let your attorney purse your case in a federal or state court.
Before filing a complaint, you need to organize all documentation and evidence, including written communication. For example, for discrimination against your hairstyle, you need to gather the company policies on grooming, including natural hair and style.
Any employee has the right to choose a cultural or natural hairstyle and still enjoy career growth and livelihood. That said, the “Create a Respectful and Open- Workplace for Natural Hair Act (CROWN Act) prevents hair discrimination and bring diversity to workplaces.