The Teamsters, which represents UPS workers, said it was “very pleased” with the changes.
“The union contested the previous guidelines as too strict numerous times over the years through the grievance/arbitration process and contract negotiations,” the union said in a statement. “We have proposed neatly trimmed beards during several previous national negotiations.”
Some legal specialists called UPS’s policy change long overdue.
“Though UPS has defended its grooming policy in past civil rights litigation, it appears that UPS may now better appreciate that its natural hair ban maintains centuries old race-based exclusion of Black workers from employment opportunities simply because they wear their hair as it naturally grows,” said D. Wendy Greene, a professor at Drexel University’s Thomas R. Kline School of Law and an architect of the Crown Act.
“In doing so, UPS’s grooming policy sent a clear message to Black workers that they were required to either change or extinguish a fundamental part of their racial, cultural, and sometimes religious identity to be a member of the organization,” Professor Greene said.
Angela Onwuachi-Willig, a professor of law and dean of the Boston University School of Law, who has researched hair codes, said the change at UPS “recognizes that allowing people to be their authentic selves is good for business.”
Policies that ban natural Black hairstyles are clearly discriminatory, she said, because they deem Black hair to be “inherently unprofessional.”
Dominique Apollon, vice president for research at Race Forward, a racial justice advocacy organization, said companies that forbid natural Black hair send the message that “white standards of beauty and white comfort are ultimately the default.”
“I’d like to see these sorts of policy changes accompanied by a deeper reckoning with the past, and with a humility that unfortunately doesn’t come often in our litigious society,” he said. “Companies like UPS need to acknowledge that these sorts of policies have had long-term effects, and will continue to have ramifications or racial outcomes unless more is done.”