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Can you be fired over a hairstyle?

Your hair is a very personal, important part of your identity. So, what happens when your hairstyle is at odds with your employer's grooming policy? Worse, what if your manager tells you that your natural hair is somehow "unprofessional" and expects you to submit to painful, damaging and expensive treatments in order to make it more socially acceptable by white standards?

That's the unfortunate reality for many black men and women in the workforce today -- and it has, historically, been an issue.

However, the tide seems to be shifting.

Hair discrimination is in the news more often than ever and there are growing signs that it won't be tolerated. African-American workers are increasingly asserting their right to be free of workplace discrimination -- and their right to have hairstyles that don't necessarily conform to white notions of "professional." New York City even took the step to officially ban discrimination against hairstyles in schools, at work and in other public areas -- and it probably won't be the last city to do so.

Is your employer engaging in hair discrimination against African-Americans? Here are the signs that your employer needs to do an overhaul of their policies on employee appearances:

  • The current policy is vague. Statements like "employees must keep their hair neat or well-kept" are open to a lot of interpretation -- and can easily end up being discriminatory in practice. A better policy would be something like "employees may not have wear unnatural colors in their hair, like red or green."
  • A certain hairstyle is forbidden for no rational reason given the nature of the job. For example, a man with dreadlocks neatly pulled back is just as capable of doing office work as a man with a buzz cut, so there's no good rationale for forbidding employees to wear dreads.

If you're the victim of African-American discrimination or harassment based on your hairstyle, it's important to take action. Awareness of the issue helps provoke change -- but some people won't budge until they're legally forced.

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