New Law Protecting Employees Against Hair or Hair-Style Based Discrimination
California Follows Recent Trend of Protecting Employees Against Hair or Hair-Style Based Discrimination
California’s so-called “CROWN Act” became state law as of July 3, 2019, making it the first state to protect employees from discrimination based on natural hair and hairstyles associated with race. Earlier this year, New York City passed a similar municipal ordinance earlier this year and Michigan is poised to follow suit by passing its own state law providing such protection to employees.
The legislative purpose of the CROWN Act (SB 188) is apparently to encourage employers to create grooming and appearance policies that will foster inclusion and diversity. Legislative fact-finding led to the conclusion that “workplace dress code and grooming policies that prohibit natural hair, including afros, braids, twists, and locks, have a disparate impact on Black individuals as these policies are more likely to deter Black applicants and burden or punish Black employees more than any other group.”
The CROWN Act will further expand the definition of race under California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), which already has more categories of protection than any other state. The bill applies to private employers of 5 employees or more, and to public schools and employers. It excludes non-profits and religious organizations.
Due to this new law, employers should be careful if they have grooming or appearance policies, as they now cannot restrict or forbid certain hairstyles. The only reason to prevent certain hairstyles would be for health or safety grounds, but the restrictions must be based on a legitimate business concern where no alternative exist (i.e. hairnets).
The CROWN Act will most certainly lead to an increase in the number discrimination claims, in which an African-American employee or applicant can show that some comment was made or action was taken due to their hairstyle.
The employment law attorneys at Thakur Law Firm, APC are knowledgeable in the latest employment law compliance issues, and they can assist your business in ensuring you do not run afoul of the ever-changing contours of California employment law.