A black hospitality worker has won a racial harassment tribunal case, and over £16,000, after her manager demanded she remove her wig before grabbing and pulling it off.
Angelica Vial, an 18-year-old waitress at the Mazaj Arabic Charcoal Grill in Dundee, was working at the restaurant alongside her university studies when the restaurant founder Sadeq Alsafar, began to harass her about her wig used to protect her braided head from the cold.
The tribunal heard that colleagues at the restaurant would often “gossip” about Vial’s real hair at work, and that there was an “intense curiosity” about what was underneath her wig.
Reportedly, Alsafar’s wife and Vial’s manager, Ruby Mubariq, had “gossiped” about her hair and “whether or not it’s real” in Arabic.
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Vial revealed to the pair that she was wearing a wig, which resulted in “shock” and a line of questioning that made the waitress feel “flustered and deeply uncomfortable,” the tribunal heard. This is when Alsafar demanded she take her wig off.
The tribunal report read: “Ms Vial went downstairs to get her belongings from the security room. She came back up with her things and was heading towards the door.
“Mr Alsafar was standing in front of the door, blocking it.
“As she tried to pass him out the door, he stopped her and said words to the effect of “no one’s here – take off your wig”.
“She took a step back from him as he then tried to reach over and grab the wig and pull it off her head.
“He was smiling. He grabbed strands on the top and pulled. She held on to the wig and tried to adjust it to cover her hair.
“She moved backwards from him, saying words like “no, no, I don’t want to. It’s stuck on!”
This altercation resulted in Vial resigning days later. As a result, she has won £16,753 in compensation for race harassment and constructive dismissal.
Hair in the workplace
Touching anyone at work against their consent is never OK. But, in recent years touching the hair of colleagues from minority ethnic backgrounds has a multifaceted impact that goes beyond just physical harassment.
Black and afro hair has been increasingly politicised in recent years because of its social significance in the way many individuals, particularly black people, experience hair discrimination. This can be especially noticeable in the workplace where afro hair has historically been deemed as unruly and unprofessional.
Natasha Kearslake, director of HR consultancy at Organic P&O Solutions, comments: “Dress standards in UK workplaces have traditionally followed European beauty ideals, which often disregard the natural hair textures and style of Black individuals.
“This can lead to discriminatory policies in workplaces where natural hairstyles like afros, braids and dreadlocks are deemed ‘unprofessional’ or unacceptable.
“This lack of understanding of the diverse ways that different cultures and ethnicities express themselves through their hair can result in marginalisation and unfair treatment of staff.
“There is a growing movement to challenge these biases and celebrate natural hair, and workplaces need to educate their people on how to create a more inclusive environment.
“People of all racial backgrounds should be free to wear their natural hair without fear of harassment or discrimination.”