Lawmakers gave first-round approval March 9 to a bill that seeks to extend employment discrimination protections.
LB1060, sponsored by Omaha Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh, would expand the definition of race for purposes of employment discrimination to include traits historically associated with race, such as hair texture and protective hairstyles, including braids, locks and twists.
Cavanaugh said that a 2016 Perception Institute study revealed a strong implicit bias against natural hairstyles traditionally worn by black women and men.
“As we seek to find ways to recruit and retain a robust workforce in Nebraska, LB1060 is a no-cost way to make Nebraska an ideal location for a workforce looking for a state that values its workers,” she said.
Bellevue Sen. Carol Blood supported LB1060. If dress codes and policies affect a specific demographic more than others, she said, their personal rights may be violated.
“These legal rights over our own bodies—when put into practice—allows our workforce to feel valued, raises self-esteem, empowers individuals and allows them to feel safe,” Blood said.
Sen. Ben Hansen of Blair spoke in opposition to the bill. Government regulation in private business can lead to unintended consequences, he said, adding that the issue of hair styles in the work place should be left to the employer and their employees.
“If I was the employee and felt [discriminated against], I’d quit. I’d tell my friends and I’d put it on social media,” Hansen said. “That sometimes is the most impact you can have on a business.”
Also opposing the bill was Venango Sen. Dan Hughes. Depending on the industry, he said, prohibiting certain hairstyles can be a serious safety consideration.
“Being in agriculture is a dangerous job,” Hughes said. “Having long hair is an impediment and, quite frankly, that’s a risk that I’m not willing to take with an employee.”
Senators voted 26-9 to advance LB1060 to select file.