Discriminatory policy forces bearded peace officers to shave or face disciplinary sanctions
Some civil rights organizations are coming together to voice their concern over a new California corrections department policy that can discriminate against hundreds of peace officers on religious or medical grounds.
Earlier this month, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) rolled out an updated policy that forces bearded peace officers, including those who previously held religious or medical accommodations, to shave or face disciplinary sanctions.
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Realizing the impact this could have on many officers, Sikh civil rights organization – Sikh Coalition and the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Northern California sent across a letter detailing “grave concerns” regarding the categorical application of this policy.
The letter pointed out the disproportionate impact that the policy has on black and brown CDCR peace officers – specifically black officers who are far more likely to suffer from Pseudofolliculitis barbae (PFB) or razor bumps, a medical condition that causes painful skin inflammation and scarring, and Sikhs and other religious minorities who are religiously mandated to keep their facial hair.
In the week since the policy went into full effect, both organizations have received requests for legal help from black and Sikh individuals working at CDCR facilities across the state who have been negatively impacted by this policy.
Harsimran Kaur, Sikh Coalition senior counsel says, “This policy has created enormous fear and confusion for Sikh CDCR peace officers whose previously held religious accommodations are no longer valid. It now seemingly forces them to either comply with the shaving requirement under extreme duress or risk their employment.”
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“The discriminatory policy change is not only untenable for Sikh peace officers; its effect is enormous because it adversely impacts every peace officer who requires a religious or medical beard accommodation.”
According to a December 2022 report from the California Department of Human Resources, about 2,000 of CDCR’s approximately 41,000 employees are black men.
Although the exact number of Sikh CDCR peace officers is not available, observant Sikhs are required to keep uncut hair, including an unshorn beard.
Between just these two impacted communities, it’s conservatively estimated that hundreds of CDCR peace officers are in jeopardy of being forced to make the false choice between their health or faith and their career.
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“The fact that this new discriminatory Policy was put into effect on Feb 1, the first day of Black History Month, makes it all the more egregious,” the letter said.
The new policy unfairly penalizes black officers said Brandon Greene, director of the Racial and Economic Justice Program at the ACLU of Northern California.
“Black people often face hair discrimination in the workplace, and this policy may result in disproportionate discipline and firings of black CDCR officers.”