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

This blog is presented under protest by the law firm of Ervin Cohen & Jessup LLP.  It is essentially the random thoughts and opinions of someone who lives in the trenches of the war that often is employment law–he/she may well be a little shell-shocked.  So if you are thinking “woohoo, I just landed some free legal advice that will fix all my problems!”, think again. This is commentary, people, a sketchy overview of some current legal issue with a dose of humor, but commentary nonetheless; as if Dennis Miller were a lawyer…and still mildly amusing. No legal advice here; you would have to pay real US currency for that (unless you are my mom, and even then there are limits). But feel free to contact us with your questions and comments—who knows, we might even answer you.  And if you want to spread this stuff around, feel free to do so, but please keep it in its present form (‘cause you can’t mess with this kind of poetry). Big news: Copyright 2019. All rights reserved; yep, all of them. If you have any questions about this article, contact the writer directly, assuming he or she was brave enough to attach their name to it. 

If you have any questions regarding this blog or your life in general, contact Kelly O. Scott, Esq., commander in chief of this blog and Head Honcho (official legal title) of ECJ’s Employment Law Department.

Tags: HR


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