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New California Law Bans Workplace Discrimination Based on Natural Hair and Hairstyles

California is the first state to protect employees and students from discrimination based on natural hair and hairstyles associated with race. California Senate Bill 188, known as the CROWN Act, seeks to “Create a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural hair.” The bill unanimously passed the California State Senate on April 22 and the State Assembly on June 27. Governor Gavin Newsom sign the bill into law on July 3.

The California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) makes it unlawful for employers to engage in discriminatory practices based on certain protected characteristics, including race. The CROWN Act adds that the definition of “race” for the purposes of FEHA now includes “traits historically associated with race, including but not limited to, hair texture and protective hairstyles.” The Act defines “protective hairstyles” to include, but is not limited to, hairstyles frequently worn by African Americans, such as “braids, locks, and twists.” The Act applies to public schools, private employers with five or more employees and public employers.

Overview of SB 188
To help employers implement the law, Meyers Nave Principal Camille Hamilton Pating published an article in the California Newsletter of the Society of Human Resource Management that addresses (1) grooming and appearance policies, (2) state vs. federal law, (3) disparate impact of hairstyle regulation and (4) best practices for employers. Please click here to read their article.

What it means for employers
Camille advises that employers should consider the following when creating a grooming and appearance policy:

  • The policy should be driven by legitimate, objective business needs, not subjective personal preferences.
  • The policy should state the reason for grooming or appearance standards, such as to protect the health and safety of employees.
  • The policy should be equally and fairly implemented and should not disproportionately impact employees in a legally protected category.
  • The policy must accommodate employees’ religious beliefs, where appropriate.
  • The policy should apply to the workplace only and should not attempt to regulate employees’ off-duty appearance.