Following a well-publicized incident where an athlete was required to cut his dreadlocks before being allowed to compete, the New York City Commission on Human Rights has issued a Legal Enforcement Guidance on Race Discrimination on the Basis of Hair.

The Guidance states that the City’s anti-discrimination law “protects the rights of New Yorkers to maintain natural hair or hairstyles that are closely associated with their racial, ethnic, or cultural identities.” It goes on to identify such hairstyles for Black people, including locs, cornrows, twists, braids, Bantu knots, fades, Afros, and/or the right to keep hair in an uncut or untrimmed state.

According to the Guidance, employers:

  • May not enact grooming or appearance policies that ban or require alteration of such hairstyles.
  • May not enforce facially neutral grooming policies in a discriminatory fashion.
  • May not harass, impose unfair conditions, or otherwise discriminate against employees based on aspects of their appearance associated with their race.
  • May not ban, limit or otherwise restrict natural hair or hairstyles associated with Black communities to promote a certain corporate image, because of customer preference, or under the guise of speculative health or safety concerns.
  • Where there are legitimate health or safety concerns, consider alternatives for addressing the concerns that do not ban or restrict such hairstyles.