Sent home due to having “unnatural hair”

An employee was sent home after being accused of having ‘unnatural’ hair, which went against company policy. The woman, who is black, was sent home after being told by her manager that her blonde braids were ‘unnatural’, resulting in her filing a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

The employee said that the only guidance she was given around hair was that it needed to be out of her face, a rule she felt was reasonable. But after undergoing a new hairstyle, her manager asked to speak to her in private. She was told that because there was blonde in her hair, which was an unnatural colour for you, she needed to remove the blonde before she could return to work.

When the employee checked the employment handbook it stated that: “hairstyles must be neat and professional in appearance. Unnatural hair colours or eccentric styles (e.g Mohawks, shaven designs, etc.) are not permitted.”

After raising a complaint, she was informed that the manager had misinterpreted the policy and that this was an “educational moment” for the team. However the employee was so embarrassed she did not wish to return to work.  The EOCC have taken the case on for the employee and it is expected that it will settle out of court, particularly since the employer has admitted to “misinterpreting” its own policy. 

This reminds employers to consider racial identity when creating dress and appearance codes.  Hair can be a significant aspect of racial identity and if it is picked out as an aspect of appearance, may unwittingly have a detrimental effect on people from ethnically diverse backgrounds.

If you would like support to review your dress or appearance code at work, please contact us at enquiries@121hsolutions.co.uk

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