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Employment Law Notebook

New Jersey Employers: Time to Rethink What is Neat and Professional

It’s understandable that employers want employees to come to work looking neat and professional.  But the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights just issued new Guidance that should prompt all New Jersey employers to examine whether such policies are discriminatorily affecting employees of a certain race or religion.  Concerned that employers’ policies on hairstyles might be discriminatorily affecting Black employees, the agency just issued new Guidance explaining that race and religious discrimination prohibited by the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD) includes discrimination based on hairstyles that are” inextricably intertwined with or closely associated” with race and/or religion.   

Examples of prohibited conduct in the Guidance are grooming or appearance policies that on their face or selectively applied ban, limit, or restrict hairstyles closely associated with Black people, including, but not limited to, twists, braids, cornrows, Afros, locs, Bantu knots, and fades, or with certain religions, such as  payos, traditionally worn by Orthodox Jewish males, or hijabs, commonly worn by Muslim women.  If restrictions on hairstyles are in place at employers due to health or safety reasons, the Guidance states that the employers must be able to substantiate objective, factual health and safety risks created by a particular hairstyle.  If such risks exists, the Guidance states that employers should consider whether such risks can be eliminated or reduced by steps other than banning or restricting a hairstyle, such as by hair ties, hairnets, and head coverings.

In light of this new guidance, all employers with grooming and appearance policies should review them to ensure they are consistent with the Guidance and discuss the Guidance with supervisors. To view the Guidance, click here 

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