Should His Dreadlocks Keep Him Out Of A Job?
But in mid-April, four months after a service station and convenience store hired him as an overnight clerk, Hegwood learned his hair style had suddenly became a problem.
Hegwood, 24, hasn’t been fired. But he hasn’t collected a paycheck since.
His supervisors at a St. Louis Petro Mart have told Hegwood that he’s welcome to return to work — if he shears the dreadlocks that run about halfway down his neck.
Hegwood doesn’t understand the fuss.
“It’s a gas station,” he said. “People aren’t going to not buy gas just because the clerk has dreads.”
Policies on the personal grooming habits of employees land on the edge of state and federal employment discrimination laws.
Companies doing business in Missourihave the right to terminate or suspend any employee that doesn’t meet established guidelines addressing hair, tattoos or dress.
“An employer may condition a job on an employee’s compliance with the employer’s hair styling preferences, unless the employee’s alternative hair styling preference is connected with the employee’s inclusion in a protected category,” Missouri Department of Labor spokeswoman Amy Susan explained in an e-mail. “For example, a particular hair style may be a tenet of the employee’s religion, or the employer may decline to hire a prospective employee because the employee is considered to be disabled because of his or her hair style (such as believing someone without hair to be suffering from cancer).”
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is a bit more exacting. It looks at how various groups of people wearing various hairstyles are treated in comparison to other groups.
“The baseline for evaluating grooming policies is to look at their overall burden on different groups of employees,” EEOC spokeswoman Justine Lisser wrote in a general overview of the Petro Mart matter.
“…If an employer prohibits a range of hair styles, such as both corn rows and mohawks, and the no cornrows/dreadlocks policy affects 30% of its African-American employees while the no mohawks affects only 3% of its white employees, we could say that the policy had a disparate impact on African-Americans, even if it applies to all employees.”
Hegwood has sported dreads on and off for years. The dreadlocks were in place when he applied for and was offered the $8.50-an-hour position at Petro Mart late last year.
“They didn’t say anything about it then,” he said.
Nor, Hegwood added, was there any mention of the dreads posing a threat to safety or the health of co-workers.
Owned and operated by Western Oil Co. in Earth City, Petro Mart does have a written policy stipulating that hair should be “kept neat and clean…immoderate styles… such as corn rows, braids etc. must be approved by a supervisor…dreadlocks and mohawks are unacceptable.”
Western Oil did not respond to requests for a response.
A father of three, Hegwood doesn’t know how long he can take a principled stand against Petro Mart and its grooming policy.
He needs a salary to support his children and pay for the remainder of his education at St. Louis Community College-Forest Park, where Hegwood hopes to earn a degree in business.
The worst of the job crisis may be over — unemployment in the St. Louis region dropped to 8.1 percent in March.
But back in the hunt four months after starting a job “I really liked,” Hegwood fears landing employment remains a challenge.
“Maybe I’ll start my own business,” he said, looking ahead. “That way I can wear my hair anyway I want. Source/Credit: Steve Geigerich for stltoday.com.