French MPs to debate ‘discrimination based on hair colour and style’

France is lagging behind North America on the issue, says MP

A view of a woman and man in the workplace, one with afro hair and the other with a beard and moustache
French MP Olivier Serva believes that France is lagging behind the US on the subject of hair discrimination in the workplace (such as afro hair, beards, bald heads, or colour)
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The French parliament is set to debate a new law on ‘capillary discrimination’ on March 28 in a bill that aims to prevent discrimination over hair colour and hairstyle in workplaces.

The law has been proposed by Liot MP (Libertés, Indépendants, Outre-mer & Territoires, centre) Olivier Serva, and suggests sanctions for workplaces that are found to discriminate against employees due to hairstyle, colour, or hair type.

This could, for example, include discriminating against someone because they have natural ‘afro’ hair (seeing it as ‘less professional’, for example), or assuming that someone with long, blonde hair is less intelligent or professional than their brunette counterparts.

Mr Serva believes that France is ‘behind’ on the subject, after around 20 North American states introduced several laws on the issue.

He has cited studies in the US (none of the same kind exist in France, largely because France does not allow polling based on ethnicity), showing that two-thirds of African-American women have changed their hair before an employment interview, including straightening their natural hair.

This is despite other studies suggesting that regular usage of ‘straightening’ products can be damaging to health. One study from the US health agency even found that it can increase the risk of uterine cancer by four.

There is a long history in the US of people of colour stating that they feel their natural hair is seen as less professional or respectful than hairstyles more often seen on other ethnicities.

“Hair discrimination exists [in France],” said sociologist Jean François Amadieu to FranceInfo. “There are all kinds, it’s undeniable.”

He believes that sociological studies show that there is a perception that people with “textured, loose hair are associated with less serious, less rigorous, messier people, compared to those with smoother, more coiffed hair", whatever their skin colour.

French law already bans 25 kinds of discrimination, including one that refers to people’s physical appearance. However, some claim that it can be difficult to prove discrimination under the current legislation.

There have been few court cases over the issue in France, but in one notable case in 2016, a fireman with a beard and ponytail took his employer to court for “discrimination, harassment and abuse of power” after they stopped him from wearing the uniform, and warned him to cut his hair, or face a pay cut.

The fire station colonel said that “a two-month beard and long hair is frowned upon” and that “firefighters have a certain image and moral code to respect,” but the employee disputed that his hair had any impact on his ability to perform his duties well.

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