March 2019 Issue Number 224
Is a monthly electronic newsletter which links current events and issues to the daily challenges faced by fire and emergency services managers. Current topics in the areas of leadership development, workplace diversity, change management, and conflict resolution will be discussed.
We hope that you find the information here useful and provocative.
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The City of New York has recently enacted a law that makes it illegal for an employer to harass, punish or fire someone because of the style of their hair. The law applies to anyone in New York City but is aimed at remedying the disparate treatment of black people who are sometimes targeted for choosing to wear their hair in a natural state or in styles such as locs, cornrows, twists, and braids.
The law does not supersede requirements for hair restraint for health and safety reasons, as long as those policies apply equally to everyone.
The military, which is 18% African American, has only recently altered its policies regarding hairstyles. The Marines approved braid, twist and loc hairstyles in 2015 with some exceptions, and the Army lifted its ban on dreadlocks in 2017.
Discrimination and harassment based on hair style have recently been in the news when a high school wrestler was forced to cut off his dreadlocks or forfeit his match. The New York City Commission on Human Rights has received numerous complaints about harassment or negative employment action due to hair style.
I must admit that I've never really understood why some people get so upset about other people's hair. What we do with our hair is ultimately reversible and temporary. It always seemed to me that hair was one aspect of appearance that people could just have fun with.
Of course, there are real concerns about hair when it comes to work. No one wants someone's hair falling into their food, and loose long hair can be a safety risk for some work environments, including firefighting. But these considerations can be taken to an extreme.
When women were first hired as firefighters, many cities required that they meet the same hair standard applied to men, in some cases, requiring a crew cut style. Such rules were not about safety, but served to discourage women from applying for fire service jobs. When women appealed to have old rules modified, they were sometimes met with the response that "we're not willing to reconsider the policy as written."
In one city that took such an attitude, and where women had been fighting for years for change, one African American woman firefighter carefully read the existing policy, then dyed gold and purple stripes in her close-cropped and otherwise compliant hair. The current policy said nothing about hair color, but at that point, the city suddenly became interested in revisiting it. The new policy was written with input from all and simply said that all hair must be kept restrained and above the collar, either through style or cut. It also added that if hair was dyed, it must be "a uniform color that is found in nature for hair."
It's too bad that laws must be passed for people to talk reasonably about hair. It just doesn't seem like it should be that big a deal.
Source: The New York Times, February 18, 2019