Are dreadlocks appropriate for the workplace?


In 2013, a federal Court of Appeal in Alabama ruled that businesses have the exclusive right to decline work to somebody whose hair is in dreadlocks.

A claim was documented by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against Catastrophe Management Services after it revoked an employment offer to a woman when she wouldn't remove her locks. There are reports that state that the Catastrophe Management Services human resources manager told the woman in an interview that dreadlocks "tend to get messy.”

Khau Young, a senior at Florida A&M University, believes these are without a doubt “discriminatory actions” was taken. “How much more do they want from us?” said Young. “It’s bad enough that employers make finding a job competitive for colored folk, but this is crossing so many boundaries.”

In its suit, the EEOC asserted that this was an infringement of Title VII of the  Civil Rights Act of 1964, contending that dreadlocks are a "racial trademark" that have been  used to generalize African-Americans as "not cooperative people" and as unfit for the work environment; thus concluding, that dreadlocks are a haircut "psychologically and socially related" with African-Americans.

The Court of Appeals disagreed, ruling that CMS’ “race–neutral grooming policy” was not discriminatory as hairstyles, while “culturally associated with race,” are not “immutable physical characteristics.”

Jhimeika Barrington, an employee at Metz Culinary Management on FAMU’s campus, thinks that her hair shouldn’t automatically paint a picture of who she is. “If people would look at the history of dreadlocks, they’ll learn that most people have them for religious purposes. Too often we see businesses associate dreadlocks with thugs or hoodlums.”

There have been a bundle of similar cases where recruiters have turned down applicants due to their physical appearance.

In a more recent case in October 2017, the EEOC sued a Lakeland-based Publix store, alleging religious discrimination for telling a new hire to cut his dreadlocks before being able to work there. Guy Usher, a Rastafarian, was hired to work at a Publix store in Nashville, Tenn. However, the lawsuit said, he was asked to cut his hair before he started work.

Destini Jones, 24, spends $125 on her dreadlocks every month. She says her boss at Dillard's in Tallahassee had a problem with how she looked before she was hired.

“During my interview, my supervisor told me from the jump that I would have to either cut my hair or wear it in an up-styled position. But the way she told me was in a relatable manner since she’s also a woman of color."