Is a dress code a discriminatory policy? 

Employees have a right to a safe work environment. The general idea of this means that employees can not be wrongly targeted, attacked, stalked or harassed because they are a minority. Gender, country of origin, sexual attraction, age, disability and pregnancy are all individual characteristics that may be discriminated against. 

History has shown that people of color have been wrongly discriminated against for generations. Race is not a factor that should cause an employee to face harassment, targeted comments, prejudice or unemployment. Unfortunately, many biases and policies still stand in the way of giving people of color a fighting chance for equal employment. 

One such policy is dress codes. A workplace dress code may be seen as targeted toward people of color.

How people of color are forced to conform

Dress codes are meant to regulate how employees appear. For example, employees may be limited to certain colors of fabric, specific length of pants, type of shoe or appropriate graphics. This can, in effect, improve the outer image of a business while not overly affecting employees.

On the other hand, a grooming policy may greatly harm employees. Many grooming policies detail the exact length, color and style of an employee’s hair, and nothing more. People of color, however, often don’t have natural hair textures that align with grooming policies. As a result, many employees have to use harmful, expensive chemicals on their hair to conform to dress codes. If this isn’t done, then people of color may face discrimination as early as the hiring process. 

The CROWN Act seeks to redefine how someone may be racially discriminated against. Signed in 2019, people of color can wear locs, braids, afros and Bantu knots without the fear of discrimination. Today, employees who understand their legal rights may be able to fight discrimination barriers such as grooming policies that prevent people of color from seeking equal employment.  

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