May an employer require an employee to change their hairstyle if the employer considers it to be too unconventional?
Author: William Denham, Shortt & Nguyen, PC
Yes. An employer may adopt appearance and grooming policies that, for reasons of health or safety or for a desired public image, require employees to maintain conventional hairstyles.
However, certain state or local laws (e.g., California) may require that employers permit employees to appear or dress consistently with their gender identity or expression (e.g., a male employee who identifies as female may be allowed to wear their hair long even if the employer's policy requires men to keep their hair short).
In addition, laws have been passed at the state and local level (e.g., New York) that include discrimination based on natural hair and hairstyles, such as braids and locks, as a form of race discrimination.
Any appearance and grooming requirements should be based on a legitimate business need (e.g., public image, safety) and should be applied to all employees uniformly.
Exceptions to the policy may need to be made in order to accommodate an employee's religious belief or observance (including religious dress and grooming practices), medical condition or disability (e.g., it may be a reasonable accommodation to allow a male employee to have long hair if there is a conflict between the policy and the employee's religious beliefs or practices).
Employers should review their grooming standards and appearance policies to ensure they are neutral and, moreover, inclusive of ethnic, cultural and religious practices related to hair and hairstyles.
Any appearance and grooming policies should be clearly outlined and communicated to all employees and supervisors.