Employer Alert: New Law Prohibits Employment Discrimination Based on Natural Hairstyles

On July 3, 2019, Governor Gavin Newsom signed into law Senate Bill 188, the Crown Act (Create a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair).

The text of the law includes an explanation for its purpose. In pertinent part, SB 188 states that the “history of our nation is riddled with laws and societal norms that equated ‘blackness,’ and the associated physical traits, for example, dark skin, kinky and curly hair to a badge of inferiority, sometimes subject to separate and unequal treatment.” It goes on to state that the societal understanding of “professionalism was, and still is, closely linked to European features and mannerisms, which entails that those who do not naturally fall into Eurocentric norms must alter their appearances, sometimes drastically and permanently, in order to be deemed professional.” The conclusion is that, despite the progress that society has made to reverse racist, hair remains a discrimination, particularly for Black individuals. The Crown Act is therefore designed to eliminate workplace policies that prohibit “natural hair, including afros, braids, twists, and locks,” that adversely impact Black individuals “as these policies are more likely to deter Black applicants and burden or punish Black employees than any other group.”

In making it unlawful to discriminate against employees or students based on a natural hairstyle, the law expands the definition of race to include traits historically associated with race, including hair texture and hairstyles, braids, locks and twists.  California employers must therefore revise policies and train supervisors to eliminate natural hairstyles from all workplace decisions.

Although New York City recently issued guidance regarding the application of the N.YC. Human Rights Law to characteristics closely associated with race including hair texture and style, California is the first state to expand its anti-discrimination laws to include these characteristics.

This law becomes effective on January 1, 2020.

 

The author would like to gratefully acknowledge the assistance of Joanne Warriner.

 

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