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Natural Hair, Don't Care!

by: Broderick C. Dunn

Many African American people have been rejected from jobs, punished at school and called out in other public places because of the texture and style of their hair. Several states and localities including California, New York and Montgomery County, Maryland, have passed or proposed laws banning policies that penalize diverse people from wearing natural curls, dreadlocks, twists, braids and other hairstyles which embrace their cultural identity.

Ethnic hairstyles may soon be protected in Virginia under a proposed amendment to the Virginia Human Rights Act (VHRA).

SB50 in the Virginia Senate and HB 1514 in the House of Delegates both propose VHRA amendments which state the following:

C. The terms "because of race" or "on the basis of race" or terms of similar import when used in reference to discrimination in the Code and acts of the General Assembly include because of or on the basis of traits historically associated with race, including hair texture, hair type, and protective hairstyles such as braids, locks, and twists.

If these bills become law, many employers will have to reexamine their grooming policies to ensure that they conform with the new definition. For example, grooming policies which state that an employee's hair should be "well-kept" or "neat" could be overly ambiguous and leave too much room for interpretation. A manager who chastises an employee for having dreadlocks or an afro because the manager deems them not sufficiently "neat" can end up with a very unhappy employee and leave the company exposed legally.

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