A judge in America has ruled that employers are allowed to ban dreadlocks in the workplace.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (the EEOC) recently tried to widen the scope of race discrimination to incorporate dreadlocks. But their case was thrown out.
The EEOC took on the case of African-American woman Chastity Jones, who saw her job offer withdrawn when she would not remove her dreadlocks.
Before she started the job, Ms Jones was told that she must remove the dreadlocks to meet the firm’s grooming policy. The policy states that employees’ hairstyles should reflect a professional, business-like image and that, “no excessive hairstyles…are acceptable.” She was told by the company that dreadlocks can get messy and that she must remove them before she was able to start her new job. However she would not take them out, so the offer of employment was withdrawn.
She contacted the EEOC, who took the case to court claiming that the company’s policy of no dreadlocks was a form of race discrimination, as it targeted African-Americans employees.
But the employer claimed that its grooming policy was actually nothing to do with race, as it requires everyone to remove their dreadlocks if they have them, whatever their ethnic background or race.
The EEOC argued that “hairstyle can be a determinant of racial identity,” but the court disagreed and said that other courts had already rejected similar claims. The court dismissed the case saying that, “hairstyles, even one more closely associated with a particular ethnic group, is a mutable characteristic.”
The EEOC appealed the court’s decision, arguing that focusing on dreadlocks is actually racial stereotyping. However, the court of appeal disagreed and chose to also dismiss the case, agreeing with the original ruling.
The result of this case may have come as welcome news to some employers across the U.S. But while many of their ‘grooming’ policies may be safe for the time being, they should still be obliged to reasonably accommodate and respect their workers’ cultural and religious beliefs, especially if there is no impact on other employees or company operations.