We previously reported that the NYC Commission on Human Rights issued legal enforcement guidance for employers regarding racial discrimination on the basis of hair under the New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL). Although that guidance does not reflect a change in the NYCHRL, it makes clear that employers’ grooming and appearance policies may not prohibit hairstyles historically associated with certain racial communities, such as those who identify as “African, African American, Afro-Caribbean, Afro-Latin-x/a/o or otherwise having African or Black ancestry.”

Recently, New York state went a step further by passing a law that amends the definition of “race” in the New York State Human Rights Law (NYSHRL) to include “traits historically associated with race, including but not limited to, hair texture and protective hairstyles.” This would include, but is not limited to, hairstyles such as “braids, locks, and twists.” As a result, the NYSHRL now prohibits racial discrimination based on natural hair or hairstyles. Interestingly, the amendment contemplates the protection of traits historically associated with race other than hair or hairstyles, which traits are not clearly identified in the law.

The passing of this law makes New York the second state, after California, to prohibit discrimination based on hairstyles. New Jersey is considering similar legislation.

New York employers should review their discrimination, harassment, grooming and appearance policies to ensure such policies prohibit discrimination based on traits historically associated with race, including, but not limited to, hair texture and protective hairstyles. Employers should also train their HR personnel and management about this new law. Our New York team is available to advise regarding this amendment and best practices for your company.