An insurance company based in Trinidad and Tobago named Colfire sent a letter to an employee, Maurice Ramirez, stating his hairstyle was unprofessional. The letter has gone viral.
On a deleted Facebook post Maurice uploaded the letter from Colfire which mentioned that “Hair should be kept clean, neat and well groomed”. The letter stated that a discussion was held with The Manager, The Assistant Manager Finance and with the HR Manager about Maurice’s hair.
The company went further to threaten his termination upon not complying to their requests.
The Employers Loophole
Employers can include in their employee handbooks what hairstyles are appropriate for their work space. However, some hairstyles put some women, and men, at a disadvantage because it does not allow them to wear their hair in a more natural form. Additionally, it affects the hiring process too. Hair that is worn naturally is more likely to affect a qualified candidate’s chances of being hired than their straight haired counterparts.
After being hired to particular company, the employee is subject to the employee handbook dress code, which could include hairstyles. Since physical appearance is not a protected under federal law, an employer can terminate one if they feel the employee’s hairstyle is inappropriate for the work environment.
Similar Hair Experiences
This has a greater effect on individuals whose natural hair has low positive regard towards it. This type of discrimination based on hairstyles has led to a number of different lawsuits by African American women towards their former employers. A famous case of discrimination based on a hairstyle associated with afro textured hair occurred in 1981, where Renee Rogers was terminated for wearing a braided, cornrow style while on the job.
Another case more recently in 2016 was at Zara when an employee, Cree Ballah, alleged discrimination over her braided hairstyle.
“My hair type is also linked to my race, so to me, I felt like it was direct discrimination against my ethnicity in the sense of what comes along with it,” said Ballah.
The Colfire Policy And Changing Laws
Anti-discrimination laws do not necessarily keep pace with the changing workplace environment. A subtler form of discrimination occurs when individuals are called out for having hairstyles outside of the norm. In some cases, minority workers become targets for their ethnic hairstyles. Since no laws specifically relate to women’s hairstyles, companies are free to write their own policies regarding appearance.
For Mr. Ramirez to defend himself he would likely have to prove that his hair style was actually “clean” “neat” and “well groomed”. And doesn’t contradict with Colfire policy. Which it shouldn’t, his hair seemed to be in its natural, curly state.
An Informative Chart
For those who may be unaware we’ve supplied a chart showing the variation among natural Black/African hair textures.
Defining “Professional” Hair.
Upon Googling what hair is considered to be professional, we were greeted with images of long haired white men, sporting different cuts dressed in suits and blazers. The black men displayed on google images after a length of scrolling had low cut hairstyles no more than a centimetre in length, and showed no variation in style.
How far can employers push a policy based on physical appearance while remaining outside the boundaries of discrimination. Were Colfire’s actions fair?
[UPDATE: August 16, 3016.]
Ramirez has since been placed on paid administrative leave while the company does an “internal” Investigation.
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