Hairdos and Hair Don’ts: Yes, You Can Be Fired For Your Hair Style

Ron Swanson, equipped with a curious hair style, looking quizzical

Ron Swanson, equipped with a curious hair style, looking quizzical | NBC

George Thorogood & The Destroyers had the famous line from their 1993 album Haircut, “Get a haircut, and get a real job.” It was echoing the sentiment from your parents or grandparents, trying to light that proverbial fire under your ass, stop looking like a hippie, and make something of yourself. We’ve all heard something similar from someone, in all likelihood. But these days, employers aren’t quite as worried about your tattoos, hair style, or other physical alterations as they are with your ability to provide value to their organizations.

Still, there are some out there who harbor more traditional viewpoints. And in some cases, are firing employees for their chosen hair styles. That’s surely something that’s happened many times over the years, but most recently, a fired worker brought up discrimination and racial identity as it relates to certain hair styles — and the case ended up going in front of a federal court.

The court’s ruling? That an employer was within its rights to fire an employee for the way she wore her hair — in this case, dreadlocks. That woman, as has been reported, is Chastity Jones, who had been gearing up to start working at a company named Catastrophe Management Solutions in Alabama. Jones is black, and said that a white HR representative had asked her to change her hair style away from dreadlocks. Jones went to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and a lawsuit was filed on her behalf.

The suit said that Jones was a victim of racial discrimination, as dreadlocks are commonly and culturally “associated with people of African descent.”

Hair styles and discrimination

HR sliding over a firing notice

HR sliding over a firing notice | iStock.com

This all occurred back in 2011, and eventually wound up in federal court in Alabama. That court dismissed the suit — but it was appealed and taken to the  11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which is why we’re hearing about it now. That federal appeals court also tossed it — voting 3-0 against Jones.

“We recognize that the distinction between immutable and mutable characteristics of race can sometimes be a fine (and difficult) one, but it is a line that courts have drawn,” Judge Adalberto Jordan said as a part of the decision, as reported by Slate. “So, for example, discrimination on the basis of black hair texture (an immutable characteristic) is prohibited by Title VII, while adverse action on the basis of black hairstyle (a mutable choice) is not.”

While this is an interesting case, what we’re ultimately left with is a decision from a federal court that you can be fired for the way you wear your hair. And excuses relating to discrimination aren’t going to cut it.

As many of us were probably told by our parents during some rebellious teenage phase, saying that “This is just the way I am, and that everybody had better get used to it” isn’t convincing. It’s a bummer, sure. But the one big takeaway we need to learn from all of this is that you can still harm your career advancement or chances at getting a job by making certain decisions regarding your appearance.

Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Hiring sign | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Of course, this was just one case. You might find that there are plenty of gainfully employed people out there who wear their hair in any number of ways — blue hair, long ponytails, dreadlocks — none of it is all that uncommon these days. But it really comes down to an employer’s preference. For that reason, if you’re on the job hunt, it might be wise to stick to a more conservative appearance.

Most people might consider dreadlocks to be just fine. But again, it’s all about how an employer perceives it. You might knock the socks off of an HR rep during an interview, but if your prospective manager gets a glimpse of a tattoo he or she doesn’t like? It might send you to the back of the line.

There’s not much you may be willing to do about it (or be able to do about it, in some cases), but it’s something to keep in mind — particularly if you’re on the job hunt. We live in a pretty accepting society in which almost anything goes, but there are still many traditionally minded folks out there who can be turned off by something as simple as a certain hair cut, or a tattoo.

Know going in that certain aspects of your appearance can be a liability on the job hunt, and evidently, don’t expect much help from the legal system if you feel you’ve been treated unfairly.

Follow Sam on Facebook and Twitter @SliceOfGinger

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