Linklaters signs UK code protecting Afro hair in the workplace
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Linklaters has adopted the UK’s first Black hair code to protect the rights of its employees to embrace natural hairstyles in the workplace.

Despite hair being a protected racial characteristic under the Equalities Act 2010, hair discrimination remains a source of racial injustice for Black people in the UK.

A recent study found that 93% of Black people have faced microaggressions, such as uninvited hair touching (46%), related to their Afro hair. Of those who experienced discrimination due to their hair, 49% said it happened in the workplace (49%) and 45% in job interviews.

More than half of respondents said their natural hair has been judged as unattractive or unprofessional, with more than one-third experiencing bullying at work. Some 52% of respondents said the discrimination they experienced negatively affected their self-esteem or mental health.

We are a community built on an ethos of equality and respect where hair texture and style have no bearing on an employee's ability to succeed

The Halo Code has been developed to bring together organisations and individuals who have committed to work towards creating a future without hair discrimination.

Adoptees of the code pledge: “We acknowledge that Afro-textured hair is an important part of our Black employees’ racial, ethnic, cultural, and religious identities, and requires specific styling for hair health and maintenance.   

“We are a community built on an ethos of equality and respect where hair texture and style have no bearing on an employee's ability to succeed.”

Linklaters has now embedded the code into its dress code policy and forms part of a wider review of policies in line with the firm’s Race Action Plan.

“At Linklaters we are committed to being home to a culture and environment in which racial, ethnic, cultural, and religious identities are celebrated and individuals feel comfortable to bring their whole selves to work,” said David Martin, Linklaters’ global diversity partner. “We pride ourselves on our values of respect, integrity, and inclusion and stand against all forms of racism and discrimination.”

Other UK legal businesses that have adopted the code are Bates Wells & Braithwaite, Fladgate, and Spire Barristers. They join several multinational employers including Unilever, Estée Lauder, and Procter & Gamble to sign the code.

In the United States, Connecticut is the latest state to make hair discrimination in the workplace illegal following the passing of its Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair (Crown) Act. The law makes it illegal to discriminate against Afros, Bantu knots, braids, cornrows, dreadlocks, and twists.

Crown Act legislation has also been passed in California, Colorado, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Virginia, and Washington. Other states, including Delaware, are also considering their own legislation.

A US study from 2019 found that Black women were 30% more likely to receive a formal grooming policy in their workplace and were 1.5 times more likely to be sent home by their employer because of their hair. Also, Black women were 80% more likely to change their natural hair to meet social norms or expectations at work.

Last September, the Crown Act was approved at the federal level in the US House of Representatives. Although the law’s progress has stalled in the US Senate, it is expected to be revived under the Biden administration and a now Democratic-controlled Congress.