Can my manager tell me how to wear my hair?

Our dress code does not require women to wear their hair down but yet my manager has made several comments that I should consider wearing my hair down. She’s even done this in our monthly employee/manager meetings. I have ethnic hair and prefer to wear it in a tight bun. Advice?

Ann Kiernan responds:

Doesn’t your manager have more important things to think about than your hair?

Generally, discrimination on the basis of black hair texture is prohibited by federal law, while adverse action on the basis of black hairstyle is not. For instance, in Jenkins v. Blue Cross Mut. Hosp. Ins., Inc., 538 F.2d 164, 168 (7th Cir. 1976) (en banc), an appellate court recognized a claim for racial discrimination based on the plaintiff’s allegation that she was denied a promotion because had a natural Afro. However, in EEOC v. Catastrophe Management Solutions, Inc., 852 F.3d 1018 (11th Cir. 2016), a different appellate court ruled in favor of an employer that refused to hire an African-American woman who wore dreadlocks, reasoning that the dreadlock ban applied to men and women of all races and was, therefore, not discriminatory.

Good luck.

Posted 08-13-2018

Information here is correct at the time it is posted. Case decisions cited here may be reversed. Please do not rely on this information without consulting an attorney first.


About the Author:

Ann Kiernan has litigated claims of wrongful discharge and discrimination before state and federal courts and administrative matters before the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights, the National Labor Relations Board and the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission, representing both employers and employees. Ms. Kiernan co-hosted The Employee Rights Forum, a weekly radio call-in show reaching up to a half-million listeners in the New York metropolitan area, and her articles on employment law have been published in many books and magazines. Both as a firm partner and as a director, Ms. Kiernan gained solid experience in management and human resources compliance. She has worked with Fair Measures since 1997.