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After seeing several players’ hair covering their jersey numbers during a performance of the Star Spangled Banner, former New York Yankees’ owner, George Steinbrenner, instructed the players to cut their hair. It was then, in 1973, that the New York Yankees’ grooming policy was born.  The official team policy states that, “all players, coaches, and male executives are forbidden to display any facial hair other than mustaches (except for religious reasons), and scalp hair may not be grown below the collar.” Over the years, many have commented about the policy and some have openly rebelled.

In 1991, Don Mattingly (current Miami Marlins’ Manager), defied the policy and refused to cut his hair. In response, he was removed from the team’s starting lineup and was fined repeatedly until he trimmed his hair.   As with employers with similar policies, Steinbrenner wanted the Yankees to adopt “a corporate attitude.”

New York City, however, has recently warned businesses that bans on hairstyles commonly worn by African-Americans may violate anti-discrimination laws.  On February 18, 2019, the New York City Commission on Human Rights said, in part, that employers may face liability under New York City’s Human Rights Laws if their policies subject African-American employees to disparate treatment – such as the banning of “cornrows, dreadlocks, Afros, or fades.”  Under the guidelines, the Commission can impose a penalty of up to $250,000 on those who harass, demote, or fire individuals because of their hair.

New York City is leading the charge. Not many other local governments (if any) have considered similar ordinances. But this warning serves as reminder that overbroad appearance and grooming policies can lead to discrimination concerns in the workplace. Ways to curb potential concerns include drafting concise, easy-to-understand policies, carving out exceptions based on protected categories (such as for religious reasons like the Yankees’ policy did), and, of course, making sure that the policies are enforced consistently.

Something tells me that if The Boss were still around, he would likely pay a $250,000 fine per player to make sure that his Yankees look clean-cut … but how many other employers would do the same?

Register Here for our 2nd Annual Tampa Labor & Employment Law Seminar from 8am-4pm on Friday May 10, 2019 at the Tampa Bay History Museum.

Register Here for our 29th Annual Miami Labor & Employment Law Seminar from 8am-4:15pm on Friday, May 17, 2019 at the Hard Rock Stadium.