TODAY

TODAY   |  June 17, 2013

Sister who shaved head told to wear wig at work

When cancer survivor Melanie Strandberg decided to shave her head in solidarity with her sister, Marisa Lowe, who is undergoing chemotherapy, she says she was told by her salon employer that she would have to wear a wig to work to make customers comfortable. NBC’s Amna Nawaz reports.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> hair stylist in washington state is making headlines. she claims she was forced to quit after shaving her head in support of her sister who has cancer.

>> reporter: just one year separates these sisters but not much else.

>> my sister and i have been best friends for as long as i can remember. we have done everything together.

>> reporter: even cancer. marissa got her first diagnosis last year, just 23, the chemo claimed her hair.

>> the hardest thing is not what i'm going through but it's having to watch the heart break of the ones that i love.

>> reporter: melanie had just beaten cervical cancer . to show her love, she shaved her head.

>> it meant more than i think she even knows.

>> reporter: two weeks ago, more bad news, marissa 's cancer can come back.

>> they told her chemo and i found my clippers.

>> reporter: but this time a reaction she didn't expect. the salon where she worked said her bald head could make guests uncomfortable and she couldn't market hair products without hair and she had to wear a wig.

>> i decided i can't support her 50% of the time. that's not why i did it.

>> reporter: she felt she had no choice and re-signed.

>> i consider, myself, my sister and every bald woman out there to be strong and beautiful.

>> reporter: she posted the letter on facebook. it was liked, shared and eventually picked up by local news. melanie 's description of events does not fit their culture or values and they're now investigating to sort out what happened.

>> we have no policy that prohibits this and if there was a violation of any of our policies, then we will take the appropriate action.

>> reporter: melanie 's job they say is there if she wants it. the sisters say they're focussing on the future.

>> when it comes down to it, you have your family and you have your faith. and if you can't stick up for those two things, then what really in this world are we willing to stick up for?

>> reporter: a bond they'll now rely on for marissa 's battle ahead.

>>> let's get perspective on this. star jones is a former prosecutor and representative for the national association of professional women. good morning to you.

>> good morning savannah.

>> there seems to be a disagreement about exactly what happened here. melanie says she was asked to wear a wig and because of that she re-signed. the salon says -- well, the owners say they're not sure she even got the paperwork. she is free to come back and the job is hers if you want it. what do you think happened here.

>> this is a failure of process and procedure at that particular and salon and not a failure of core values or policy of the company as a whole. the owner said we have supported our team members and i like the fact that they call them team members in all aspects of their community service or their personal lives or families lives. they have actually supported this kind of incident in the past in one of the other salons so i think what happened was the salon manager and then the human resources and or director, they just didn't follow what the normal policy would have been.

>> i mean, could an employer legally say to on employee you are not permitted to be bald? in the air salon setting? if it was not sick but voluntary.

>> well, if it was sick, we'd have a problem but if there is a dress code or uniform you need to wear and you know that going into your employment, that's one thing. if you're in the hair salon and it's about being creative and funky and it may generate conversation with the guests or with a client. so i'm not sure that a salon manager can say, well, you know, we want everybody to have long hair, especially if you have a guy cutting hair next to you and that guy is bald. so what is good for the goose is good for the gander.

>> interesting discussion to have. star